|Normally at Monterey, my goal each year is to see every single group. That can be a difficult accomplishment when there are five
bands playing at once at different venues but usually I can achieve the goal by being constantly on the move. This year unfortunately I
was a bit ill (having a terrible cough for four weeks) and had to miss Sunday’s music altogether including Kurt Elling, Wayne Shorter,
Herbie Hancock, Barbara Dennerlein and Jamie Cullum. I did manage to catch many of the highlights from Friday and Saturday, and
can report that Monterey’s 51st annual marathon had enough great moments to almost reach the heights of the previous year’s 50th
Veteran saxophonist George Young began the festival with an inspired tribute set to Billy Strayhorn. Joined by a rhythm section that
included pianist Bobby Phillips, Young came up with fresh solos on “Satin Doll,” “Raincheck,” “Lush Life,” “Just A Sittin’ And A
Rockin’” and Take The ‘A’ Train.”
Up-and-coming vocalist Spencer Day started out singing soulful jazz on “Gotta Make You Mine” and “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is
Home” before veering off into r&b. I veered off to see Rudder, an intriguing group comprised of saxophonist Chris Creek, keyboardist
Henry Hey, bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Keith Carlock that at times was reminiscent of early Weather Report in its most
experimental days. The results were creative electric jazz that held one’s attention. Also impressive was this year’s edition of the
Berklee Latin All Stars, a sextet that included the Freddie Hubbard-inspired trumpeter Niv Toar, the fluent flutist Enrique “Kalani”
Trinidad, and keyboardist Abrah Olivo who was showcased on “Elektric,” a tribute to Chick Corea’s Elektric Band.
Tenor-saxophonist Joshua Redman, leading a pianoless trio with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Brian Blade, had fun stretching
out on some Sonny Rollins-associated material and songs from his own Back East CD. Pianist Yaron Herman’s trio with bassist Matt
Brewer and drummer Gerald Cleaver displayed plenty of energy on their post-bop originals, some of which hinted at the Latin side of
Chick Corea. Drummer Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts performed colorful and eccentric versions of straightahead jazz, featuring
trumpeter Terell Stafford, Gary Versace on piano, organ and accordion, and bassist Martin Wind. Highlights included “The Scenic
Route” and Thelonious Monk’s “We See.” Anat Cohen, the most impressive new clarinetist to emerge in recent years, lived up to her
growing reputation, performing unclassifiable originals that displayed her Israeli heritage and the legacy of the clarinet with assistance
by the Jason Lindner Trio.
Cassandra Wilson, who mostly performed standards, was in a particularly happy mood and her versions of “Caravan,” “A Sleeping
Bee,” “Them There Eyes,” “Till There Was You” and a Robert Johnson tune were practically jubilant. She obviously enjoyed her long
overdue Monterey Jazz Festival debut and was heard throughout at the peak of her powers. Bassist Christian McBride was featured in
several settings throughout the weekend including a versatile quintet that ranged from straightahead to funk, featuring tenor-
saxophonist Walter Smith III. and keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer. Friday night ended with an encore set by Joshua Redman in one of the
indoor venues, taking a long cadenza on “Angel Eyes.”
Saturday afternoon at Monterey has traditionally been blues-oriented, but this year there were relatively few blues to be heard. Ledisi
performed light r&b and, despite her obvious abilities, seemed to be bragging much of the time about her successes. Ryan Shaw, who
also sang at Playboy, showed that he is a fine soul singer. Altoist Maceo Parker was as funky as ever and seemed to have the word
“funk” in just about every song he performed. Only Derek Trucks’ brand of southern soul and blues rock captured the spirit of the
blues. Also heard during the very miscellaneous afternoon was the powerful Air Force big band The Falcolnaires, fine Japanese
musicians in pianist Junko Moriya’s quartet (particularly alto and soprano-saxophonist Kazuhiko Konda), and an out-of-place if
intriguing East European folk string group called La Tuque Bleue.from Quebec. Cassandra Wilson fared well at a Downbeat blindfold
test conducted by Dan Ouellette. Nancy Wilson made a lot of interesting statements while being interviewed onstage by singer Clairdee
although she would contradict much of what she said during the night’s performance. She talked about how audiences are not
interested in hearing about an artist’s personal life and that they primarily want to hear good music.
That night during a Cannonball Adderley tribute, Nancy Wilson dominated the proceedings, telling long rambling stories about her
life, using phrasing that can only be described as theatrical, and purposely cracking her voice excessively; it sounded phony after
awhile. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard and altoist Tom Scott may have been onstage but they were drastically underutilized, mostly
standing around while Wilson talked about herself.
Much better that night was Scott’s tribute to Adderley which found him playing brilliantly (hinting at Cannonball while still sounding
like himself) in a quintet with trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, pianist Nat Adderley, Jr, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Gregg
Field; Paulette McWilliams provided a few vocals. Terence Blanchard also had his own set with his quintet, reprising some of the
Hurricane Katrina music that he had performed the previous year; few trumpeters can play with so much emotion.
The Maria Schneider Orchestra introduced a lengthy work commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival (“Willow Lake”). Tuck & Patti
performed their brand of folk jazz with sensitivity and creativity. Pianist Rebeca Mauleon’s Afro-Kuban Fusion played stirring Afro-
Cuban jazz. Drummer Antonio Sanchez’s Migration reunited tenor-saxophonist David Sanchez with altoist Miguel Zenon. And flutist
Orlando “Maraca” Valle’s octet (which also included Sanchez and Zenon) teamed up with the Monterey Jazz Festival Chamber
Orchestra for some brilliant and unclassifiable music.
So even though I regretfully missed Sunday’s events, there was certainly a great deal of rewarding music to be experienced at
Monterey on Friday and Saturday.