Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour: Mesa, AZ, April 26, 2013
Mesa Arts Center
April 26, 2013
Six jazz stars connected to the Monterey Jazz Festival performed a diverse repertoire relating to other musicians associated with its history, with nods to pianist Duke Ellington, singer Billie Holiday and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. The concert included both full sextet performances and small combo arrangements playing jazz standards plus compositions by the band's members.
Vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and bassist Christian McBride, the ensemble's musical director, opened the two-hour concert with a duo version of Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See the Light" that included an entertaining scat- and-bass segment. Their colleagues then joined for an ensemble rumble through Louis Jordan's 1946 hit, "Let the Good Times Roll," that featured dynamic tenor saxophonist Chris Potter and 30-year-old trumpet whiz Ambrose Akinmusire. Bridgewater has the longest history with the festival, first appearing in 1973 with the Thad Jones Mel Lewis Remembered; both Akinmusire and pianist Benny Green performed as teenagers in the festival's annual Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.
The fedora-hatted McBride then led an original instrumental chart, "Shade of the Cedar Tree," in tribute to pianist Cedar Walton, that featured two-horn harmony with darker sounds from Akinmusire and knuckle-busting moves from Green. The rhythm section took over for a tightly integrated rendition of Gillespie's Afro-Cuban jam chart ,"Tanga," that had drummer Lewis Nash delivering his legendary brush work to complement Green's amazing agility.
Bridgewater returned to render Thad Jones' gorgeous "A Child Is Born," often employing sotto voce against Akinmusire's subdued horn lines for a prayer-like impression. That contrasted with the next chart, Green's "Benny's Crib," that featured stupendous solos by the pianist and McBride. Potter's "Wayfarer" brought another change of tone and pace, the saxophonist moving away from mainstream licks for a more daring and freewheeling sound; intentional dissonance was punctuated by Akinmusire's bold moves and Nash's muscular anchoring rhythms. McBride chose "East of the Sun" for his featured chart, delivering clean, strong sounds in Ray Brown style for a purely straight-ahead rendition of the classic.
Then the spotlight was back on Bridgewater for "God Bless the Child," the vocalist delivering Holiday's plaintive lyrics with heartfelt passion, enhanced by a Potter solo in the same mode; but then she shifted into histrionic sounds and rowdy gestures, abruptly dissipating the tender mood. The final song was her funky and raucous version of Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty," providing ample space for a series of spirited horn solos and lively trades between McBride and Nash that generated strong audience response.
The evening's repertoire represented elements of the always-diverse lineup of the festival, one of the nation's oldest and biggest, which debuted in 1958 with Holiday, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, pianist Dave Brubeck, saxophonists Gerry Mulligan, Benny Carter and Sonny Rollins, and the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Having reviewed several MJFs, it was disappointing to hear no tribute chart in honor of Brubeck, who died earlier this year. Also none for Rollins, MJQ, trumpeter Miles Davis, pianist Thelonious Monk, or for the popular all-blues Saturday afternoon sessions. Knowing the MJF was co-founded by the northern California jazz broadcaster Jimmy Lyons, a quoted reference to Mulligan's "Lines for Lyons" was, at least, anticipated. Not so on either count, and only the Gillespie chart to reference the Latin element of festival regulars, percussionist Tito Puente and vibraphonist Cal Tjader. Ah, so many stars, so little time to salute them.
This was the fourth Monterey Jazz Festival all-star group since 2008 to tour North America. The itinerary of nine weeks and 46 dates began January 10, 2013 in Santa Cruz, California, and moved on to 40 cities in 23 states, as well as shows in Canada and Washington, D.C., fittingly ending on April 30, International Jazz Day, at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.