Tuesday, September 20, 2005

MJF/48: Day Three of the 2005 Monterey Jazz Festival

After two days of terrific music at the 48th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, I realized I was in southern California and ought to see a piece of it while I had the chance. We drove to Pebble Beach past jaw-dropping scenery and homes, cruised through Carmel, and turned back. The Jon Jang Seven was playing the Garden Stage and we didn’t want to miss it.

I’d never heard Jon, but my traveling companion Janis Lane-Ewart  admires him greatly. When I asked her to describe his music, she said: “I am guaranteed that when I hear Jon Jang, I will be educated, made to smile, and have taken a trip to church.” The program we saw was called “A Song Cycle of Traditions and Transformations.” Jang introduced each selection, which included Taiwanese and Chinese folk songs about love, loss, and women throwing themselves into graves and turning into butterflies. His Asian-infused jazz reminded me of Lew Tabackin’s forays into Japanese folksongs heard at the Artists’ Quarter in St. Paul. I know I want to hear more of Jang’s music and will start with his 1995 solo outing, “Two Flowers on a Stem.” Several of his CDs are on a label he cofounded called Asian Improv.

The other six of the Jon Jang Seven were Wayne Wallace, trombone and musical director; John Worley, trumpet and flugelhorn; Jim Norton, soprano saxophone; Francis Wong, tenor saxophone (Francis wailed); David Belove, electric bass; and Deszon X. Claiborne, drums.

Music festivals are not only a chance to see legends and greats, but to experience someone new to you. Jon was it for me and I’m glad.

Having recently seen the Branford Marsalis Quartet at the Guthrie in Minneapolis, we opted to skip the crowds at the Arena and instead hit the Night Club/Bill Berry Stage for the premiere of the Christian McBride Situation (say “sich-ee-ay-shun”), with McBride on bass, D.J. Logic on turntables, Ron Blake on saxophone, and the amazing Patrice Rushen on piano and synthesizer. Is it jazz? Is it funk? Who cares? The rhythms were irresistible, even to the little gray-haired usher guarding one of the side doors. My personal favorite of the show: a version of “All Blue” with a lot of scratching.

As we left the Bill Berry Stage and strolled toward the Arena for the festival’s final big event,  stopping along the way for some wine and peach cobbler, Madeleine Peyroux’s voice drifted through the trees from the Garden Stage.

At the Arena: The Pat Metheny Trio & (Quartet). (Side note: Sitting beside me was the B3 player from the previous night’s Carla Bley Big Band. Hearing the Big Band play Bley’s brand-new Festival-commissioned piece, “Appearing Nightly at the Black Orchid,” I had thought—they know this cold, they’re so relaxed, they make it look so easy, this must be a band that plays together often. In fact, everyone but Bley’s partner, Steve Swallow, was a local, and they had practiced Bley’s music exactly twice.)  Back to Metheny: Is it possible to hear too much Christian McBride in one evening? Not for me. He was Metheny’s bass player, joined by Antonio Sanchez on drums. The trio became a quartet when David Sanchez came on with his saxophone (and turned up the heat). I’ve never been a huge Metheny fan because I’ve always thought he was kind of an ECM snoozer. I was so wrong. He wailed like a rock star in the Arena, and the sound of his guitar followed us for blocks when we sneaked out early to avoid the crush at the end.

As we left, people all around us were bidding each other farewell: “See you next year?” “Same seats?” “Have a safe trip home.” “Great festival!” In fact, it was. I liked it a lot, and I’d love to return. There’s a relaxed, mellow California feel to it. The days are warm and sunny, the nights are crisp and cool. The fair food isn’t bad, either. (We were so into the festival that we never ate at a restaurant.) And the crowd is wonderfully diverse. Most jazz fans in Minneapolis-St. Paul are used to crowds that are mostly white. Monterey brought out the Benetton colors—and the colorful characters. If you go some September, keep your eyes peeled for the small African-American lady in the giant sunglasses carrying the giant flyswatters. She’s known as the Fly Lady, and I hear she’s a regular.

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