Friday, September 18, 2009

Ten reasons I’m glad to be at the Monterey Jazz Festival

Numbers don’t imply preference or order of importance, they’re just a reminder to stop at 10.

1. Vijay Iyer. Say “VID-jay EYE-ur.” When Ben Ratliff writes “Presto! Here is the new great piano trio,” people notice. I haven’t seen Iyer since he was at the Walker Art Center with Rudresh Mahanthappa in 1996. Monterey may be wishing they had booked him into a larger space than the Coffee House Gallery. With Stephen Crump on bass, Marcus Gilmore on drums. Hoping we’ll hear several cuts from the forthcoming Historicity. Sunday, September 20, 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

2. Buffalo Collision. I’m not joking when I say that if you’re a jazz fan in Minneapolis/St. Paul and you leave town for even a few days, you will miss something you wish you had seen. As I looked ahead to Monterey, I rued missing Buffalo Collision at the Dakota this Friday and Saturday. Somehow they will play the late set there on Saturday (which ends around 1:30 a.m.) and end up in Monterey in time to play the Garden Stage at 5:30 on Sunday afternoon. Ethan Iverson on piano, Dave King on drums, Tim Berne on saxophone, Hank Roberts on cello.

3. The Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars Featuring Kenny Barron, Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, and Russell Malone. Supergroup! All four of these artists have pleased me immensely in the past—the elegant pianist Barron and adventurous violinist Carter together in Montreal, Malone in various configurations (and in conversation; the angel-faced guitar player tells wicked jokes); vocalist Kurt Elling so many times I should have Platinum Elite status. Jonathan Blake on drums, Kiyoshi Kitagawa on bass. Friday, 9:40 p.m., Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage; Saturday, 8:00 p.m., Dizzy’s Den.

4. Pete Seeger. Not a jazz artist but let’s all get over it. Like many jazz festivals and clubs, Monterey has broadened its scope (it has long featured blues on Saturday afternoons) and if that helps to keep the gates/doors open I’m all for it. Seeger is an icon. Earlier this week my husband and I met someone who had volunteered at the Haight-Ashbury free clinic in the 60s. He talked about the songs, the protests, the artists, the mood, and the excitement of the times as if they all happened yesterday, with special reference to and affection for Seeger. I’m not a folk fan but I’d be a fool to miss this. I’m expecting at least a mention and perhaps a tribute to Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary, who died on Wednesday.

5. Jason Moran & The Bandwagon Premiering Feedback. Someone (and I can’t remember who—tell me and I’ll correct this immediately) recently wrote about how rock music is finding new life in video games and why can’t jazz do the same? So, why not a video game with Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran as riff-to-the-death piano players? Maybe throw in Robert Glasper and Eldar (whom I missed seeing in Minneapolis earlier this week). Back on topic, I most recently saw Moran at the Dakota with Charles Lloyd, Reuben Rogers, and Eric Harland. For many in the audience, Moran stole the show. Can’t wait to hear his new commission. Thank you, Monterey, for commissioning new work by important artists. 7:00 p.m. Sunday, Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage. Moran and the Bandwagon also play at 9:00 p.m. on Sunday in the Night Club.

6. Dave Brubeck Quartet Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Time Out. Has it really been half a century since Brubeck recorded a tune in 5/4 time that is not only instantly recognizable today but still catchy, infectious, and fun? Brubeck has been part of the Monterey festival since the start. Earlier this year, health problems interrupted his touring schedule. People will rise to their feet en masse when he comes on stage on Sunday night at 8:20 p.m. (or thereabouts) in the Arena. It’s going to be a thrilling, memorable moment. I was here for Brubeck's “Cannery Row Suite” premiere in 2006 (with vocalists Kurt Elling and Roberta Gambarini) and it was unforgettable. With Randy Jones on drums, Bobby Militello on alto sax and flute, Michael Moore on bass. Go Dave!

7. Alfredo Rodriguez Trio. Quincy Jones tried and failed to get this young Cuban pianist a visa. In January 2009--earlier this year, not a typo--he defected to the US. A friend saw him at the Detroit Jazz Festival and raved about him. That’s all I know, but it’s enough to put me in the bleachers at the Garden Stage on Sunday at 4:00 p.m.

8. Dee Dee Bridgewater. The lovely, endlessly creative and surprising Dee Dee! Does she still shave her head? Is she still singing Malian music? She’s coming to Minneapolis next year to sing with the Minnesota Orchestra. Does she have another new project for Monterey or will she draw from her extensive and colorful repertoire of French songs, Kurt Weill tunes, straight-ahead, Ella, Ellington, etc.? Not a clue. Saturday night, 9:20 p.m., Arena/Jimmy Lyons Stage; Saturday night, 11:30 p.m., Dizzy’s Den.

9. Toshiko Akiyoshi-Lew Tabackin Quartet. I’ve seen flutist/saxophonist Tabackin at the Artist’s Quarter in St. Paul but never with his wife, pianist/bandleader/composer/arranger/NEA jazz master Akiyoshi. Must stop by the Night Club on Sunday evening at 7:00 p.m. Ack! Same time as Jason Moran's premiere in the Arena! Sometime around 6:30 I'll start gnashing my teeth and wailing.

10. The food, the ambience, the characters. (a) Monterey has good fair food—multi-ethnic, tasty, substantial, prepared in grills and ovens that send clouds of fragrant smoke into the air. This year there’s a salad bar. Heirloom tomatoes? (b) The ambience is laid-back, California-style party. No passing bodies over mosh pits, no fisticuffs or flying F-bombs. It’s genial and courteous, which is not to say it’s fuddy-duddy or boring, just that this is one place where civility apparently still exists and the excitement happens on stage. (c) Hoping the Hat Man (lobster hat, jailbird hat) is still at the Arena gates and Dee Dee Rainbow is feeling well enough to attend this year. She was absent last year and it was a Very Big Deal.

I’m at 10 (and I even fudged 10 a bit) so must quit, but not without mentioning Joe Lovano and Conrad Herwig, Randy Brecker, John Scofield, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the mind-blowing trio of Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and Lenny White (awesome last week at the Dakota in Minneapolis), Esperanza Spalding, the John Patitucci Trio with Lovano and Brian Blade, and DJ Logic, all of whom will be here in the balmy ocean breezes and cool evening mists of Monterey at a jazz festival that has continued without interruption for 52 consecutive years. Times are tough so the festival has taken the unusual step of offering single-show arena tickets for sale; usually you have to buy a package to get a reserved seat in the Arena, where the biggest names perform. Please, people, come.

This year I'll be reporting on the festival for and writing a wrap-up for when I return home. So you can check those sites over the weekend and into next week if you want to know more.

1 comment:

  1. Toshiko Akiyoshi is a wonderful pianist. I was lucky to see her and her trio at Rossi's a few years ago. I was one of a handful of folks attending.


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