[JPL] Newport

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Tue Aug 12 22:41:12 EDT 2008

  Smooth mix of jazz legends and new faces in Newport

By Steve Greenlee, Globe Staff  |  August 11, 2008

NEWPORT, R.I. - The people who program the annual jazz festival at the 
water's edge here always manage to assemble a balanced mix of the 
music's most respected practitioners, its most promising upstarts, and 
crowd pleasers who can sell tickets. This year the JVC Jazz Festival 
outdid itself with a perfect blend of the old and the new, of the highly 
regarded and the highly entertaining.

Over the course of two days in Newport's historic Fort Adams State Park, 
28 acts spread out across three stages, without a dud in the bunch. The 
range of styles touched nearly every corner of what could be considered 
jazz or its outliers.

There was the tasteful, sympathetic interaction of bassist Charlie 
Haden, guitarist Bill Frisell, and pianist Ethan Iverson, who gathered 
just for the occasion. There was the infectious Latin jazz of Guillermo 
Klein y Los Guachos, the pulsating funk of Soulive, and the rock-band 
attitude of the Marco Benevento Trio, which covered songs by Led 
Zeppelin, My Morning Jacket, and Deerhoof. Then there were the 
superstars: jazz icons Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter, 
and the marquee pop names of Aretha Franklin and trumpeter Chris Botti.

With music playing concurrently on the three stages, it was impossible 
to catch more than a fraction of the action. Yet we sampled just about 
everything, and - it being the season for such things - we feel moved to 
hand out some medals.

*Event*: The Newport debut

*Gold medal*: Ledisi. If there had been a roof at the park, the singer 
would have torn it off the sucker, with her hot-and-steamy blend of R&B, 
funk, soul, jazz, and hip-hop. Drawing largely from her Grammy-nominated 
album "Lost & Found," she jokingly threatened to stop her set and go 
home if the people in the audience didn't stand up and shake their 
booties. They obliged.

*Silver medal*: Melody Gardot. The 23-year-old chanteuse, disabled at 19 
when a car struck the bike she was riding, more than lived up to the 
hype surrounding her. She hypnotized us by opening with a bluesy tune 
called "No More My Love" that was accompanied only by her own snapping 

*Bronze medal*: Lettuce. The seven-piece funk outfit, whose members met 
as teenagers at the Berklee College of Music, played a tight set of 
greasy funk that recalled James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Earth 
Wind & Fire. Joined by JB's trombonist Fred Wesley, the band generated 
so much excitement that hundreds of people skipped Aretha's set on the 
main stage so they could hear the whole head of Lettuce.

*Event*: The veteran performance

*Gold medal*: Sonny Rollins. The titan of the tenor sax hadn't played 
Newport in more than 40 years, but last night he owned it, with a 
hard-blowing set that closed the festival. He improvised endlessly on 
the repeating two-bar figure that serves as the framework of "Sonny 
Please." He played ahead of time and against time, punctuating phrases 
with quick jabs, shrieks, and honks. Be it burner or ballad, he blew and 
blew, and he never ran out of ideas.

*Silver medal*: Wayne Shorter. The legendary saxophonist's quartet - 
including pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer 
Brian Blade - constitutes one of today's finest working groups. It 
brewed up a fiery marriage of postbop ideas and free improvisation that 
dispensed with conventional notions of structure. Each song bled into 
the next, with no regard for boundaries. The music was at once coarse 
and gorgeous.

*Bronze medal*: Chris Potter. It was hard to keep track of how many 
times he took the stage - with Dave Holland, with Herbie Hancock, with 
Marco Benevento - but his star turn came with his own group, 
Underground. The quartet - which includes Adam Rogers on guitar, Craig 
Taborn on Fender Rhodes electric piano, and Nate Smith on drums - played 
modern postbop laced with fusion and funk. Leading off with the tune 
that gave the group its name, the band put on a veritable clinic in 
extended improvisation, each musician feeding off the other three to 
build momentum.

*Event*: The crowd rouser

*Gold medal*: Esperanza Spalding. The Berklee grad (class of '05) and 
Berklee instructor (hired in '05) drew four or five times as many people 
as the small stage was intended to hold. Most of those who showed up 
couldn't even see her. It mattered not. The joy created by the effusive 
bassist and singer flowed through her audience. When she scatted and 
sang wordless vocals through a celebratory tune called "I Adore You," 
the feeling became mutual.

*Silver medal*: Aretha Franklin. She's still got it, and she delivered 
it, with a set that included her biggest hits - "Respect," "Chain of 
Fools," "Natural Woman," "Freeway of Love" - and some nice twists, 
including a version of "My Funny Valentine" that began as a soulful 
ballad and evolved into a tour de force of R&B. One complaint about the 
sound: Her big band and gospel choir sometimes drowned her out, and the 
speakers crackled at several points.

*Bronze medal*: Chris Botti. I am not yet a convert to Botti's 
buttoned-down instrumental pop, but there is no denying the power of his 
opening and closing numbers. He blew a furious flurry of notes during a 
funky take of "When I Fall in Love" and then allowed his terrific 
backing musicians to stretch out. He afforded them the same luxury 
during the closer, "Indian Summer," which featured a riotous drum solo 
by Billy Kilson. Too bad most of what came between was milquetoast.

*Event*: The audience irritant

*Gold medal*: The airplane dragging a banner advertising auto glass that 
flew over the main stage during Ledisi's beautiful rendition of the 
Beatles' "Yesterday," right when she sang the line, "There's a shadow 
hanging over me." There sure was, and it ruined half your song.

*Silver medal*: The cigarette and cigar smokers who puffed throughout 
the festival, with no regard for their neighbors at a lung's length away 
on every side. Would it kill you to step away from the masses when you 
need to light up?

*Bronze medal*: All the boors who think it's OK to yak incessantly 
during the music. True, the lawn at Fort Adams is not a jazz club, but 
there were half-hour breaks between sets. Save your lengthy 
conversations for then.

/Steve Greenlee can be reached at greenlee at globe.com 
<mailto:greenlee at globe.com>./ 

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