|Arguably the finest annual modern jazz festival in the United States, the Monterey Jazz Festival is a must for jazz fans, particularly
those living in California. Only a 5 1/2 hour drive from Los Angeles, Monterey is quite scenic and picturesque. The same can be said
for the Monterey Fairgrounds, an area that houses not only the five major venues of the festival but dozens of vendors plus an indoor
theater on which one can watch live what is happening on the main stage. One comes away from the Monterey Jazz Festival knowing
that, at least artistically, the modern jazz scene is very healthy.
Although I skipped some of the repeat performances, I did see 50 different sets (counting a few panel discussions and films) during the
2 1/2 days, including every band (other than the high school and college groups) that performed.
The festival actually began slow, with a set by tenor-saxophonist Roger Eddy that was tepid, smooth, and dull. He managed to put
people to sleep at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, no mean feat. But this was just a false start.
At 8, things really got going. Bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding was a hit as she seems to be everywhere, performing her originals with
charm, wit and high musicianship. Trombonist Conrad Herwig's Latin Side All-Star Band is a septet with trumpeter Michael Rodriguez
and tenor-saxophonist Craig Handy. On a set billed as “Celebrating Kind Of Blue and Giant Steps,” trumpeter Randy Brecker and tenor-
saxophonist Joe Lovano were well featured guests. The four-piece rhythm section with drummer Steve Berrios and Pedro Martinez on
congas gave a Latin spin to such familiar tunes as “Giant Steps,” “Naima,” “So What” and “All Blues,” making those warhorses sound
fresh and new.
The trio of bassist-leader John Patitucci, tenor-saxophonist Joe Lovano and drummer Brian Blade was as brilliant as one would expect,
performing such tribute numbers as “Joe Henderson,” “Nascimento” and “Monk/Trane.” Forro In The Dark, a group consisting of
flute, guitar, electric bass and two percussionists, set mysterious Mid-Eastern grooves. Pianist Jonathan Baptiste performed some
intriguing inside/outside music, improvising on “Maple Leaf Rag,” using New Orleans parade rhythms on another piece, and at times
mixing together Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and stride piano. His quintet with saxophonists Eddie Barbash and Matt Marantz
seemed ready for anything. The Berklee Monterey Quintet displayed plenty of energy and high musicianship while stretching the
tradition, particularly altoist Michael Sachs. Global Noise had some fine playing by Jay Rodriguez on flute and saxophones that was
sometimes buried beneath the groove set by DJ Logic on turntables. Lizz Wright displayed a beautiful voice during a gospel and folk-
oriented set that contained no real jazz. Drummer Scott Amendola led a trio with guitarist Jeff Parker and bassist John Shiflett that
showed a lot of versatility and created unpredictable and colorful music. They began one piece as funky soul jazz before taking it
outside, and another as a rockish one-chord vamp that utilized electronic outer space sounds from Amendola. At that point, a man
entered the nightclub wearing a T-shirt that said “Once There Were Songs!”
This year's version of the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars is a sextet starring violinist Regina Carter, guitarist Russell Malone, pianist
Kenny Barron and singer Kurt Elling (who acted as the emcee and directed traffic). Carter was very expressive on an emotional
“You've Changed.” Malone paid tribute to Wes Montgomery on “Road Song” and played beautifully on a slow “Time After Time.”
Barron's “What If,” with its eccentric bass line, inspired some humorous ranting by Elling that was echoed by the musicians. The singer
was featured on Jon Hendricks' funny lyrics to Horace Silver's “Home Cooking” and led the ensemble through an explorative “Nature
Boy.” Everything worked.
And that was just Friday night. Saturday afternoon in the past has been traditionally dedicated to the blues but this year it was more of
a potpourri. Guitarist John Scofield and the Piety Street Band featured vocals by pianist Jon Cleary on spirited gospel tunes and New
Orleans songs. Veteran Pete Seeger, who turned 90 this year, made his debut at the festival. He had a great time leading the audience in
sing-alongs including a heartwarming version of “This Land Is My Land.” Susan Tedeschi had tenor-saxophonist Ron Holloway in her
band but mostly performed folk music. A Charles Brown Tribute Band put the spotlight on pianist-singer Martin Headman, who
brought back Brown's good-humored spirit. Ruthie Foster sang some bluesy soul music. The New Orleans All-Stars mixed together
several idioms with vocals by pianist Henry Butler and Cyril Neville.
If one looked around, there was also a bit of jazz to be enjoyed on Saturday afternoon. The 18-piece Monterey Bay Jazz Orchestra,
directed by Paul Contos, performed some fine swinging jazz. Guitarist Hironobu Saito's quartet was often blazing on uptempo pieces.
Pianist Weber Iago's trio was tight on a variety of post bop originals. A very informative and often-humorous panel discussion on the
Blue Note label was moderated by Ashley Kahn and featured vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, producer Michael Cuscuna and Joe
Lovano. Hutcherson in particular told hilarious stories such as the experience of playing seven sets a night in a club with a group that
only knew four songs. George Duke, on a Blindfold Test supervised by Downbeat's Dan Ouelette, was cheerful but often contradicted
himself. He bemoaned the fate of several young singers who had been signed to contracts and had compromised themselves and sung
beneath their potential in the studios, bowing to commercialism. While Duke said that it was important for artists not to sell their
musical souls by making pop recordings, it made one wonder when was the last time that he followed his own advice?
Saturday night began with the Rodriguez Brothers, an excellent Latin jazz quartet featuring trumpeter Michael Rodriguez and pianist
Robert Rodriguez. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, an important voice of the future, headed a quintet with tenor-saxophonist Walter
Smith III. and pianist Gerald Clayton, performing advanced high-powered originals. Guitarist-singer Raul Midon played
unaccompanied during a set of Brazilian jazz and folk music. Trombonist Wayne Wallace's Rhythm & Rhyme put on a spectacular
show with seven singers and five horns that should have been on the main stage. Conrad Herwig's Latin Side All-Stars performed the
music of Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. The Monterey Jazz All-Stars were unfortunately booked into a smaller inside venue,
resulting in ridiculous lines, and ushers who totally lost their cool. The musicians repeated the same set they had played the night
before. John Scofield guested with Soulive, performing heated soul jazz. The Alan Pasqua Trio with bassist Darak Oles and drummer
Peter Erskine proved to be a sensitive group and even turned “Wichita Lineman” into creative jazz. Dee Dee Bridgewater was in prime
form, romping on “Afro Blue” and “ A Long Time Ago,” dancing with the percussionists and clearly enjoying the playing of pianist
Edsel Gomez. The combination of Joe Lovano and John Scofield (substituting for an ailing Hank Jones) was explosive, intense and
fiery. And to top it all off, Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra played a particularly inspiring repertoire that
included an uptempo raging blues, “Blues Waltz,” “Free For All,” “Shades Of Jade” and a Ted Nash alto feature on “Ceora.” Marsalis
only took two solos but he did take 16 blazing choruses on the blues. Altoist Sherman Irby, trumpeters Ryan Kisor and Marcus Printup
and trombonist Vincent Gardner were among the other stars.
After taking a deep breath, it was time for Sunday. Since Sunday afternoon is dominated by college and high school bands, things were
not quite as hectic. Marsalis sat in with the MJF Next Generation Orchestra but the big news was the very impressive singer Ben Lusher
whose deep voice was reminiscent of Billy Eckstine and Johnny Hartman. He earned a standing ovation on “Don't Worry 'Bout Me”
and scatted well on “Just Friends.” Another standout was lead trumpeter Josh Gawel..
George Duke played the only commercial music of the festival, forgettable funk plus some Brazilian jazz. Toshiko Akiyoshi, in a
discussion with Yoshi Kato, talked at length about what it was like to be a female jazz pianist in Japan in the 1950s. A panel discussion
by veteran disc jockeys covered many humorous topics including what was the best lengthy song to put on the air when they had to
make an emergency run to the bathroom! Trumpeter Scotty Barnhart played nice laidback jazz with a quartet. The recent Cuban
discovery pianist Alfredo Rodriguez was a hit performing unpredictable music and really digging into “Body And Soul.” Guitarist
Terrence Brewer in a trio with organist Wil Blades and drummer Micah McClain, purposely brought back memories of Wes
Montgomery. Trumpeter Dominick Farinacci displayed a mellow tone and a melodic style in a set with a rhythm section. Buried in the
lineup was Buffalo Collision, a quartet with altoist Tim Berne, cellist Hank Roberts, pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King that
created passionate free improvisations that were among the most adventurous music of the festival. And performing near the entrance
throughout the weekend was the delightful husband-wife duet team of tenor-saxophonist Greg Fishman (inspired by Stan Getz) and
pianist-singer Judy Roberts. Their version of a rapid “Billie's Bounce,” which had Ms. Roberts scatting in unison with the tenor, was a
But the highpoint of Saturday afternoon was the filmed version of Cannery Row Suite from the 2006 Monterey Jazz Festival, featuring
the Dave Brubeck Quartet, eight singers (including Roberto Gambarini, Kurt Elling and Chris Brubeck) and a wonderful script written
by Dave and Iola Brubeck. When the film ended, the speaker introduced the Brubecks, who were sitting in the back of the theater and
were given a long standing ovation.
Sunday night kept the excitement going until the end. Lew Tabackin (on tenor and flute) and Toshiko Akiyoshi in a quartet performed
“The Long Yellow Road” and the haunting “Autumn Sea.” Pianist Jason Moran debuted a commissioned piece, the somewhat eccentric
“Feedback.” Joe Lovano led Us Five, a group with Esperanza Spalding (who sounded quite at home with the complex music), pianist
James Weidman and two drummers. Pianist Vijay Iyer and his trio performed advanced explorations.
Completely out of place was a rap group, Shotgun Wedding, that was largely unlistenable.
But Monterey finished with two of the best sets of the weekend. The Dave Brubeck Quartet (with altoist Bobby Militello, bassist
Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones) was outstanding on a Duke Ellington medley, “Yesterdays,” “Take Five,” “The Lamp Is
Low” and some newer material. Brubeck at 88 played with more energy than I have heard him in several years, clearly loving being at
Monterey and still stretching himself. Closing the night was the trio of pianist Chick Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny
White. Their set was totally acoustic with Clarke's extraordinary solos competing with Corea's usual brilliance. On such songs as
“Waltz For Debby,” “Bud Powell” and “500 Miles High,”the trio performed jazz of the highest order, and made it look easy.
All that was missing was some dixieland and a swing band, both of which I recommend producer Tim Jackson add next year. Quite a