|For 50 straight years, the Monterey Jazz Festival has been held at the Monterey Fairgrounds. For three days in September, the center of the jazz
world always moves to Monterey. Arguably the top American jazz festival, Monterey gives music fans a strong overview of the modern jazz scene,
and always leaves one with an optimistic feel about jazz today. Ever since Tim Jackson succeeded founder Jimmy Lyons as the festival’s general
manager, the festival has continued improving and growing to the point where now there is an overwhelming amount of talent booked each year.
With five stages that often operate simultaneously, particularly at night, it is nearly impossible to see every group though I manage it each year.
The key is to travel light, wear strong tennis shoes, only eat food that can be consumed while walking fast, and master the art of tearing oneself
away from one highpoint in favor of seeing another highlight elsewhere. My reviews of Monterey are necessarily snapshots since, no matter
where I stand, I am missing four other bands at that moment. However it does give me an opportunity to get in all of my exercise for the year in
one weekend. If someone asks me in December why I do not exercise, my answer is “I already exercised at Monterey!”
A band called Along Came Betty began the festival promptly at 6:30 on Friday night. It seemed only right that Monterey started its 50th year
with a group playing in a style that would have fit into the 1958 festival. They played original hard bop numbers by pianist Biff Smith including
“Rumor Has It” and a song called “Brad Mehldau’s Monogrammed Guest Towels.” There were excellent solos from trumpeter Brian Stock, Paul
Tarantino on tenor, Smith and guest guitarist Storm Nilson. Stock is the nephew of the late Jake Stock who led his band as the opening act at the
very first Monterey Jazz Festival.
The Anthony Wilson Nonet made a strong impression. The Nonet’s set included a Joe Zawinul medley of “In A Silent Way” and “Walk Tall”
featuring pianist Donald Vega and Wilson soloing over the riffing horns. Bonerama, a group consisting of four trombones, one sousaphone, guitar
and drums, performed colorful, funky and somewhat riotous music including a crazy yet danceable version of Thelonious Monk’s “Epistrophy.”
This year’s version of the Berklee-Monterey Quartet was less interesting than usual, with so-so post bop originals although guitarist Jeff Miles got
in some good solos. Papa Grows Funk proved to be a likable quintet with group vocals and Jason Mingledorff featured on tenor.
On the main stage, the quartet of bassist Dave Holland, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, tenor-saxophonist Chris Potter and drummer Eric Harland
was as remarkable as one would expect. Their music was both complex and catchy, each of the musicians was well featured and Chris Potter, who
contributed the song “Ask Me Why,” displayed a beautiful tone on tenor.
Guitarist Jim Hall performed a series of duets with pianist Geoffrey Keezer that were often exquisite, always subtle and somewhat telepathic.
Their abstract version of “All The Things You Are” was quite intriguing. John McLaughlin featured his 4th Dimension band, a quartet with
keyboardist Gary Husband, bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Mark Mondesir that was caught playing an extended rockish blues that
displayed plenty of fire and passion. Salsa singer Issac Delgado, although he does not really belong at a jazz festival, put on a stronger show than
he did at Playboy and his horn section was excellent. Pianist Craig Taborn and his trio, on a very repetitive “The Little Red Machine,” gave
listeners the impression that they were watching clothes in a dryer. Although the colors and combinations kept on changing, the music never
seemed to go anywhere. Clearly, I was not able to give Taborn much of a chance that night, but there was so much else to see.
Dumpstaphunk, a rockish funk party band that included two of the Neville Brothers, was spirited but seemed quite trivial next to the Terence
Blanchard Quintet which was performing a 30-second walk away. Blanchard’s trumpet solos were quite dramatic and emotional as he paid
tribute to his fallen New Orleans, filling his improvisations with choked tones and anguished cries. Blanchard’s band (tenor-saxophonist Brice
Winston, pianist Fabian Almazan, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott) was full of young greats but the trumpeter easily took
honors with his haunting performance.
It had rained a little bit Friday night and it was pouring on Saturday morning, but luckily the rain had largely stopped by the time the music
began that day. Parts of the Fairgrounds resembled a swamp for a time, but it did not dampen the spirits of the crowd. Saturday afternoon
usually features a blues show at two of the venues although this year the blues content was weaker than usual. James Hunter, who was clearly
inspired by the crowd, performed joyful rockabilly. The Honeydripper All-Stars revived older blues songs (including “Got My Mojo Walking”) and
had a good time. Otis Taylor put plenty of passion into his one-chord vamps, displaying a high-toned voice strangely reminiscent in spots of Janis
Joplin, but one kept on waiting for his music to evolve or at least for the chord to change. Los Lobos played their usual brand of bluish rock but was
clearly out of place.
Otherwise Saturday afternoon featured a hodge podge of events. The Cal State Long Beach Concert Jazz Orchestra, directed by Jeff Jarvis,
performed “One For Monterey” and an inventive arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby,” sounding quite professional. Guitarist Mimi Fox with bassist
Harvie S. and drummer Akira Tana updated the bebop tradition with swinging but often-sensitive solos on “West Coast Blues” and “Caravan.” A
Downbeat blindfold test featuring Gerald and Anthony Wilson was good-humored and informative. At one point a middle-aged dancer (Jan Hill?)
did a colorful routine to a Jimmie Lunceford recording. Humorist Mort Sahl reminisced about his earlier jazz connections and told humorous
stories about Stan Kenton, Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck. The Shigeru Morishita Quintet had tenor playing from Kunikazu Tanaka that hinted
at Albert Ayler and also included fine post bop solos from trombonist Yuzo Kataoka and pianist Morishita. They served as an excellent warmup act
for the Rashied Ali Quintet, a group featuring trumpeter Josh Evans and tenor-saxophonist Lawrence Clark that included the ferocious
“Judgment Day” and a somber “You’re Reading My Mind.” Ali’s drum solos were very impressive.
After a deep breath, it was time for a Saturday night program that featured 11 major groups in 3 1/2 hours. Trumpeter Christian Scott showed a
lot of potential leading his sextet through a Young Lions-type song dedicated to New Orleans (altoist Louis Fourche recalled Donald Harrison a bit)
and some more contemporary material. The Dave Holland Quartet performed another stirring set, this time in a smaller venue. Singer Lynne
Fiddmont sang some r&bish tunes and displayed an attractive voice.
Terence Blanchard, joined by his quintet and the Monterey Jazz Festival Chamber Orchestra, performed “A Tale Of God’s Will (A Requiem For
Katrina),” once again in very dramatic and passionate fashion during a moving performance. At one point Blanchard said, “Don’t come lobbying
me for my vote and then leave me on my roof.”
78-year old Ernestine Anderson sounded surprisingly strong during a set with the Lafayette Harris Trio, holding long notes without wavering,
displaying a catchy and highly individual phrasing, and swinging up a storm. The audience loved her versions of “This Can’t Be Love,” “Skylark”
and “Only Trust Your Heart.” Pianist Cyrus Chestnut with his trio improvised in a technique comparable to Oscar Peterson’s but also with his
own brand of soul. I hated not catching more of trumpeter Sean Jones’ Sextet for the group, with altoist Brian Hogans and tenor-saxophonist
Walter Smith III., was playing hard-swinging music and stretching themselves.
But one could not miss the Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s performance. After featuring Kenny Burrell’s guitar on “Romance” and his voice on
“Stormy Monday,” Wilson debuted his commissioned work “Monterey Moods.” The suite built up to a Latin section and a celebratory finale that
garnered a standing ovation. Although not quite as catchy as his “Theme For Monterey” from the 2005 festival, it is a rewarding work and
featured his orchestra at its best.
Gerald Wilson had an opportunity to play a second set with his orchestra at one of the indoor nightclubs. Kenny Burrell was featured with his
quartet on “Good Bait” and “Mark I.” Jim Hall and Geoffrey Keezer performed with a quartet. And Diana Krall closed the night, leading her
quartet with Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton. She played and sang her usual repertoire but was especially
inspired. It is something about being at Monterey, playing before an informed and attentive audience on a historic stage, that frequently results
in musicians sounding at their very best. As many times as Diana Krall has performed “I Love Being Here With You,” “Let’s Fall In Love” and
“East Of The Sun,” she has rarely sounded looser, fresher and happier than on this night at Monterey.
And it was not over yet. Sunday afternoon features many high school and college bands along with some more interesting moments. There was a
panel discussion about the late great jazz journalist Ralph Gleason and his contributions to the Monterey festival, a discussion with Clint Eastwood
and John Sayles about the role of jazz in films, and a chance to see Terence Blanchard sitting in with the Next Generation Orchestra, sounding
quite lyrical on “My Old Flame.”
Two groups made Sunday afternoon quite worthwhile. Ornette Coleman led his Three Bass Quintet through a thought-provoking and stirring set
of music. Ornette has never compromised and this is his strongest group since Prime Time. Equally rewarding but very different was the Hot
Club Of San Francisco, a happy surprise. Their comments to the audience were quite humorous, the playing by violinist Evan Price, guitarists
Paul Mehling and Jeff Magidson and bassist Ari Munkres was swinging, and their Django Reinhardt-inspired music was pure joy that the crowd
After the debut of a film that the late Ralph Gleason put together of the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival (the tenth year), it was off to the races for the
final nine groups.
Mort Sahl, gave a monologue before the final show at the main stage, recalling that he had hosted the event 50 years earlier. The Monterey Jazz
Festival All-Stars featured Terence Blanchard (playing happier music than the previous nights), the ageless James Moody and pianist Benny
Green but probably a few too many vocals from Nnenna Freelon though everyone was in fine form. Another Monterey All Star group featured top
local musicians who had played at the festival at one time or another; most notable in the personnel was the great flutist Ali Ryerson. Drummer
Benny Barth’s trio played moderately pleasing background music that did not wake up even when pianist Buddy Montgomery joined in.
Japanese organist Atsuko Hashimoto is a name to remember. She held her own on an exciting trio set with tenor-saxophonist Houston Person and
drummer Jeff Hamilton, smiling the whole time. Pianist Kenny Barron led a trio through standards (including Monk’s “Ask Me Now”) and
originals with his usual class and brilliance. Joey DeFrancesco romped with his trio including a tribute to Jimmy Smith on “Got My Mojo
Workin’”; Ramon Banda was a strong asset on drums. The Dave Brubeck Quartet, with altoist Bobby Militello in top form, romped on “Gone With
The Wind” and “Margie,” in addition to welcoming Jim Hall to a few numbers including “Take Five” and “These Foolish Things.”
Pianist Jacky Terrasson played a set of unaccompanied solos that, if he had been on the main stage, might have been the hit of this year’s festival.
He infused “Take The ‘A’ Train” with a wide assortment of fresh and unusual ideas, created a strange one-chord groove in 9/4 time and, on
“Tragic Mulatto Blues,” simulated a heartbeat with his left hand while his right played bluish phrases.
The 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival ended with Sonny Rollins, another survivor of the 1958 festival. While one might criticize Rollins’ band for
sometimes going through the motions, the great tenor had his stunning moments including his cadenza on “In A Sentimental Mood” and a 20-
minute solo on “Don’t Stop The Carnival.”
While this particular jazz carnival finally ended, Monterey #51 is already lurking in the not-too-distant future. All jazz fans within 500 miles
should go out of their way to experience this often-wondrous festival.