Here are the highlights from the 46th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival (09/19-21) in Monterey, Ca. It is a jazz lover’s paradise with over 500 top name jazz artists on 7 stages for 3 days and 3 nights.
Jason Moran and The Bandwagon
My first music stop Friday evening was pianist Jason Moran and The Bandwagon. His trio included Tarus Mateen on acoustic electric bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. They performed three shows at the Coffee House Gallery. I caught him earlier in the week at Yoshi’s and while the shows may have had similar openings, this show was definitely different. Wearing his trademark white felt fedora, he opened with his recorded “Bandwagon” intro and then broke into “Another One” which could scare a jazz purist who is looking for a familiar sound. His music is a journey in which he has a strong grasp on and respect for the past while blazing his own trail with sharp turns and curves along the way. He provides rambucous tremolos that rang out like a bell and rolled thunderously like waves on the ocean yet he is subtle and symphonic in his solo piano moments. He moved from a funk groove to a New Orleans funeral march and then to “Body and Soul” which is from his latest Blue Note release, Jason Moran and The Bandwagon. His set also included “Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2“, “Out Front“, “Planet Rock” and a very nice arrangement of “Estate’.” Tarus and Nasheet brought color and texture to the set with their excellent solos. Jason’s music challenges the listener’s ears in new ways and that is exactly what we want our music to do.
Next up was the incredible vocalist Mary Stallings at the Night Club/Bill Berry Stage. Before she came onstage, there was a buzz in audience. Several people knew her from San Francisco, which is her hometown and where she currently lives. Her band came onstage and opened with “Green Dolphin Street.” Mary came out in a sultry, red fitted dress and opened with “Old Devil Moon” with a sassy Killer Joe-like rhythm. Next, she took us down to the “Street of Dreams.” She infused the bluesy “Sweet and Lovely” with some scatting and a mellow fade out on the end. Babatunde Lea came in on the drums, then Glen Pearson came in with an excellent piano solo and Mary swung in with “The Gypsy In Me.” She slowed down the pace a bit with the Cole Porter ballad “You’re Sensational.” It was slow samba and she had a call and response with the piano. She delivered a smoldering version of “A Sunday Kind of Love“. Babatunde gave gentle brush strokes on the drums and Glen tickled the ivories in a way that could make you shiver and the bass tied them all together. Mary made it her personal testimony. The crowd just ate it up. She closed with a hard swinging “I’ve Got Rhythm” and after a round of loud applause, she came back out and encored with “I Love Being Here With You.” She kept us swaying, clapping, and toe-tapping all evening. Mary’s latest recording on MAXJAZZ Records is Live at the Village Vanguard.
Afterward, the Soulive funk was already in session over at Dizzy’s Den so I stopped outside to catch a bit of the groove. The jazz funk soul band of Eric Krasno on guitar and brothers Neal Evans, on Hammond B3 organ and Hohner Clavinet D6 and Roland A-33 keyboards, and Alan Evans on drums were just one of the acts brought in to attract the younger jazz fans. The mission was accomplished as young and old alike were moving to their soulful funk groove. If you were sitting in the back, you might not have been able to see the stage as people were up out of their seats and dancing to the music. In addition to playing cuts from their recent Blue Note albums, they included the Sly & the Family Stone classic, “If You Want To Me Stay.” Some funk is just meant to be heard while standing so you can just let it move you. Even when they slowed the funk down, it was still hot. They continued jamming until after 12am. Their new release on Velour Records is due out in October. As I was leaving, I overheard a young guy say, “I want to be a roadie for Soulive.” Me too!!
It was about 7:15pm on Saturday evening when I got in line for Carla Cook’s 8:30pm show at Dizzy’s Den. I think people started lining much earlier because I was way back in the line. Security assured everyone that we would all be able to get a seat for this much anticipated performance. I missed seeing Carla in Chicago last year so this evening was definitely special for me. A few minutes before the show, I got to go backstage and chat with Carla. I stuttered at first from the excitement and eventually got my words together. She looked radiant and was ready to give an outstanding show. She was just as warm in person as she is in her music and it was really fun meeting her.
Carla and her quintet opened swinging brightly on “Until I Met You (Corner Pocket)“, an adaptation of the Count Basie signature piece and paid tribute to vocalese performer Eddie Jefferson with “Oh Gee” where she demonstrated her innate ability to vocalize as a horn. She told how the popular standard “Where or When” came to her late yet she brought a beautiful freshness to it with her wonderful vocal clarity. She dedicated the jazzy “Strong Man” as a salute to all the strong men. Bassist Lonnie Plaxico switched from upright bass to the bass guitar for Carla’s soulful rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic “Inner City Blues” then she took us straight into Sunday morning with “Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand.” Percussionist Abdou Mboup worked it out on the bongos as Carla sang brilliantly in Portuguese on “Cancao do Sal“. She closed with a gospel-tinged, soulful version of Eric Clapton’s “If I Could Change the World” on which she gave us a powerful extended note toward the end of the song. Pianist Darryl Ivey framed Carla vocals to perfection and providing outstanding solos throughout the evening. Israel Bannerman kept a fascinating rhythm on the drums. With such clearness, versatility, and style, Carla has the ability to make any song special. Carla’s latest recording on MAXJAZZ Records is Simply Natural.
I popped in to catch the tail end of singer/pianist Dena DeRose’s second set in the Coffee House Gallery. She accompanies herself very well and has a smoldering voice that clothes each note. Like Shirley Horn, she uses spacing in her notes and silence to convey a message just as a powerful as when she sings. Her vocals were quite smooth on the reflective “I’m Old Fashioned” and poignant “You’ve Changed.” Dena introduced her own recently composed swinging instrumental, “One for the Road.” I definitely want to hear more of her music. Her trio included Michael Zisman on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. After her set, she signed autographs with legendary vocalists Jon Hendricks and Mark Murphy at the Tower Records on the festival grounds.
Vocalist/Vocalese Kurt Elling has the amazing ability to glide vocally through air with such ease. He challenges the boundaries of music with his original lyrics set to the compositions of the such jazz greats as Coltrane, Gordon, Zawinul, and Shorter. He breathes new life into these classics and gives the listener a renewed appreciation.
Kurt played the late show at Dizzy’s Den to a fairly packed house. He was playful and full of energy in his music. He was wonderfully accompanied by the Laurence Hobgood Trio featuring Hobgood on piano, Rob Amster on bass, and Frank Parker, Jr. on drums. I have been a fan of Kurt since first hearing him on a Yellowjackets album several years ago so seeing him live was definitely a treat. His set included the vocal adaptations of “In The Winelight” (Grover Washington, Jr.), “Tanya Jean” (Dexter Gordon), “When Somebody Needs You“, “Never My Love” (The Association), “Minuano” (Pat Metheny), and one of my favorites, “Man in the Air” which is also the title track from his latest Blue Note album, Man in the Air. He closed with his vocalese of the Coltrane classic “Resolution.” Kurt kept us captivated as he took us through the highs and lows of his vocal terrain. In the middle of his set, he recited a poem from Robert Creely while accompanied softly by his trio. He displays such versatility in his music and has a great sense of humor as well. He is definitely a modern day keeper of the spirited vocalese tradition made popular by such legends as Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson.
Before I cover the headliners of the day, here are a few things I checked out as I was moving throughout the festival.
- Joe Sample, Wilton Felder, and Herbie Hancock being interviewed before their shows by CNN. Hopefully, my photos will be decent.
- The Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Big Band with Artists-in-Residence John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, and Gary Burton. The band was excellent and definitely have a bright future. There were also three big band alumni trumpeters that joined them on “Night in Tunisia” that were absolutely sensational.
- The legendary pianist Jay McShann and The Duke Robillard Band at the Garden Stage.
- Saxophonist Dave Ellis also on the Garden Stage.
- Between the evening shows, I briefly got to hear pianist Jacky Terrasson intertwining a passionate melody with “Body and Soul.”
The Crusaders have been making good music since the 50′s. The players have changed over the years but they continue their fine tradition of making good music. The band includes Joe Sample on fender rhodes and electric piano, Wilton Felder on tenor saxophone, Ray Parker, Jr. on electric guitar, “Ready” Freddie Washington on bass, Steve Baxter on trombone and Kendrick Scott on drums. They began with the soulful jazz cuts “Viva De Funk” and “Creepin‘” from their current Verve release, Rural Renewal. Joe told how The Crusaders’ music is played on the Fender Rhodes and the Wurlitzer electric piano and how he purchased his first Wurlitzer in 1963 after being inspired by the music of Ray Charles. He then played the classic “A Ballad for Joe” which featured Ray on an excellent guitar solo. Joe also told a couple of great stories on the band’s beginnings and praised each member before they jammed on “Way Back Home” and “Put It Where You Want It” on which Wilton shined on the sax. Even with the heat, people were grooving in their seats and a few were up dancing. The Sunday afternoon crowd in the arena is the diehard Monterey festival goers and you can tell that many of them have been coming for years. Ray’s cousin Letitia Body filled in for Randy Crawford, who was out due to an injury, with her soulful rendition of “Street Life.” They closed out their show with Ray’s “Ghostbuster’s” theme song with all of us yelling “Crusaders” as the chant. Afterward, they receive a standing ovation. It was definitely an enjoyable and fun show.
Interesting fact: Wilton Felder originally played the electric bass and several members of The Crusaders played on many of Barry White’s hits.
Vocalist Nnenna Freelon has a special way of interpreting the lyrics of a song. We saw and heard how deeply she feels a lyric in her vocalization and spirited bird-like movements as embraces a song note for note. She is truly amazing to watch perform. As I was coming back to my seat, she was singing “Better Than Anything“, which in a line gives a nod to “checking in at Monterey.” She warmed us under the stars and the autumn breeze as she crooned “I Love You” and “Stella by Starlight.” She told us how singing “I Feel Pretty” brightens up any “bad hair” day. Her set also included a reggae flavored rendition of “Body and Soul” and “All or Nothing at All” infused with Latin rhythms. She then took us into the book of “Wonder” with “My Cherie Amour” and closed the evening with “Tears of a Clown.” As she glowed in her beautiful gown, she shared with us that tonight celebrated 20th year in the music business. Keep soaring Nnenna! She was accompanied by an incredible band which included Scott Sawyer on guitar, Brandon McCune on piano and keyboards, Wayne Batchelor on upright and electric bass, Woody Williams on drums, and Beverly Botsford on percussion. Nnenna has a new live album coming on 10/07 and advanced copies were available at the festival.
Herbie Hancock Quartet
The Swingin’ Finale of the festival closed with the Herbie Hancock Quartet featuring the incomparable Herbie Hancock on piano, Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone, Scott Colley on bass, and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. Their set included Herbie’s classic “Maiden Voyage“, “Theme from Dolphin Dance” and Bobby’s composition “November.” Herbie has played with the great legends of jazz so just watching him play under the stars was a great experience. The quartet succinctly played, each complimenting the other while showcasing their unique talents. Bobby provided rich and glorious tones on the vibes while Scott thumped his bass to perfection and Terri, wow!! Her drum solos were powerful and spellbinding. It was definitely a pleasure to finally get to see her live.
Originally posted on j-notes.com.