Los Angeles Jazz Scene - Jazz Around Town
                    November 2014
THE 2014 MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL
      
The 57th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, like the first 56, was held at the Monterey Fairgrounds during the third weekend of September.
Under the direction of Tim Jackson, Monterey continues to be not only the top annual festival held on the West Coast but one of the great jazz
festivals of the world. Many of the top modern jazz artists were featured on five stages so there was always plenty to see, hear and experience.
      
As one entered the fairgrounds, they were greeted by the duo of pianist Jeremy Siskind and alto-saxophonist Caleb Curtis. While one missed
Judy Roberts & Greg Fishman (who had been in that spot the past five years), Siskind and Curtis did a fine job of playing bop and swing
classics such as “Tricotism” and “Memories Of You” throughout the weekend.
      
Friday night officially opened with Sambada, a group with several singers, percussionists and a solid soloist in keyboardist Tammy Hall. It
was pleasing music but not really jazz; an Afro-Cuban jazz group would have been more fitting. A quintet co-led by singer Claudia Villela and
tenor-saxophonist Harvey Wainapel performed their own interpretations of bossa-nova classics from Stan Getz and the Gilbertos. This setting
brought out the best in Villela, who extended the legacy of Astrud Gilberto by also scatting and stretching the music while Wainapel
purposely hinted at Getz’s sound.
      
Cecile McLorin Salvant was featured at two different venues, and was outstanding both times. She emphasized dramatic interpretations of a
wide variety of material including “Yesterdays” (hitting low notes with confidence), “The Trolley Song” (reminiscent of Betty Carter),
“Guess Who I Saw Today,” “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” (much different than her version a few months ago at Catalina’s), Bert
Williams’ “Nobody,” and a saucy “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.”
      
The up-and-coming tenor-saxophonist Melissa Aldana led a pianoless trio through her post bop originals, sometimes hinting at Sonny Rollins
(due to the instrumentation) while showing a great deal of potential along with original ideas. Tenor-saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd
made his first of three appearances, playing folk-oriented melodies in a trio with tabla master Zakir Hussain (who also sang) and drummer
Eric Harland. The Robert Glasper Experiment again showed that the fine pianist is more interested in performing repetitive r&b
(reminiscent at times of Lonnie Liston Smith’s mood music of 40 years ago) than creative jazz these days. Bassist Christian McBride clearly
enjoyed himself playing straight ahead jazz (including “East Of The Sun”) in a trio with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens
Jr.
      
The Sarah McKenzie Quintet featured talented young musicians from Berklee. McKenzie proved to be an equally skilled pianist and singer,
displaying a lovely voice on “Got The Blues Tonight,” “Moon River” (accompanied by guitarist Andrew Marzotto) and “I Won’t Dance.” The
instrumentals with the fine tenor-saxophonist Daniel Rotem, included Monk’s “Criss Cross.” Veteran pianist Harold Mabern was in top form
during his trio performances with bassist Michael Zisman and drummer Peppe Merolla, particularly on “Mister Stitt” and “Cherokee.” In
contrast, Herbie Hancock was again a bore at Monterey. Performing a similar set as he did two years ago, Hancock played well in spots but
mostly stuck to predictable versions of his hits (such as “Chameleon,” “Watermelon Man,” “Canteloupe Island,” etc.).with a quartet that
included guitarist Lionel Loueke. While it may be too much to ask for Hancock to play on the creative level of his contemporary Chick Corea,
is it too much to expect him to play something more interesting at Monterey than his tired old show?
      
Saturday afternoon at Monterey used to be dominated by the blues but now is much more of a grab-bag of styles and idioms. Red Baraat
offered East European dance music that was entertaining, danceable and featuring a virtuosic dancing sousaphonist (Jonathan Lampley)
and several fine horn soloists. A Downbeat Blindfold Test hosted by Dan Ouellette found Lionel Loueke guessing the identities of several
guitarists (including George Benson and Kurt Rosenwinkel) but not Kenny Burrell. A panel discussion on the 75-year history of the Blue Note
label with its president Don Was and Robert Glasper had humorous storytelling by Bobby Hutcherson about Alfred Lion. A spirited r&b and
soul set by organist Booker T. Jones was highlighted by his 1962 hit “Green Onions.” Davin & The Vagabonds, led by pianist-singer Davina
Sowers, ranged from low-down blues to the only trad jazz of the weekend, “Shake That Thing.”
      
Drummer John Hanrahan’s quartet featuring tenor-saxophonist Brian Gephart did a superior job of performing all of John Coltrane’s “A
Love Supreme” from 50 years ago, earning a standing ovation for their ability to pay homage without strictly copying Coltrane’s recording.
The United States Air Force’s 17-piece Commanders Jazz Ensemble was excellent on Oliver Nelson’s “Miss Fine,” “Groove Merchant,” “Lady
Bird” (which had some nice tenor playing from Jeffrey Hall) and “Satin Doll” A panel discussion on the late pianists Mulgrew Miler and
James Williams had Harold Mabern, Donald Brown and Geoff Keezer talking about the Memphis jazz scene. Gary Clark Jr., a direct and
expressive singer and a superior blues guitarist, performed high-quality blues and roots music. Singer Becca Setevens, who also played
ukulele, performed a variety of folk and pop music with a group that included Liam Robinson on accordion. The remarkable vocalist Lisa
Fischer (a background singer no more) performed a soul/r&b set for a packed house. The Cuban group Habaneros teamed together clarinetist
Alden Ortuno Cebezas and a string quartet on charming traditional melodies, creating a blend of classical music and swinging jazz. An all-
star group from the Blue Note label called Our Point Of View consisted of trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, tenor-saxophonist Marcus
Strickland, Lionel Loueke, keyboardist Robert Glasper (at last playing jazz), bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott during a
very strong and exciting set of post bop originals. Strickland’s fiery playing really challenged Akinmusire.

In contrast was Jason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party. Moran played songs from Waller’s repertoire with his quartet but turned most of
them into one or two-chord funk jams, making tunes such as “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” sound extremely boring. His
inferior singer did not help during this fiasco. While Fats Waller would have hated that “tribute,” Laura Nyro would have loved what Billy
Childs did to her music. The pianist’s quintet (with altoist Steve Wilson and Carol Robbins on harp), guest Ambrose Akinmusire and a string
quartet performed an instrumental and on two vocal features apiece for Shawn Colvin, Becca Stevens and the powerful Lisa Fischer. Laura
Nyro’s songs were given a jazz sensibility while retaining their essence. Later that night, Childs and his combo had an opportunity to stretch
out on such originals as “Backwards Bop” and the pleading ballad “Stay.”
      
The biggest misfire of the weekend was the decision to book The Roots, a hip hop/rap group, on the main stage on Saturday night. Considering
its lack of jazz content, one had to wonder why this happened.
      
Pianist Aaron Diehl, with a quartet featuring vibraphonist Warren Wolf, paid tribute to John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet with the
commissioned piece “Three Streams Of Expression,” fully capturing the sound of the MJQ. Christian McBride’s Philadelphia Experiment had
a funky reunion with keyboardist Uri Caine and drummer Questlove that included funny stories about their high school days in
Philadelphia; organist Booker T. Jones guested part of the time.. Charles Lloyd played melodic duets with pianist Gerald Clayton. Pete
Escovedo led an 11-piece Latin jazz orchestra that was a perfect setting for him, delighting many dancers. Pianist Donald Brown, leading a
quartet with trumpeter Joe Mazzafero,, played the songs of James Williams and Mulgrew Miller with spirit, creativity and swing.
      
While two of the venues on Sunday afternoon were dominated by college bands, plenty of pros were kept busy too. Unfortunately pianist Jon
Batiste & Stay Human did a similar show as they had performed at Playboy, tearing apart standards with lots of energy but rather obvious
humor; they need a much better jokewriter because it just was not funny enough. Youn Sun Nah may not be known yet but she is already a
great singer who can hit hold endless long notes and can scat very complex lines. She was impressive in a duo set with guitarist Ulf
Wakenius. Marcus Miller and his young sextet were in top form at the Main Stage, with Miller clearly enjoying being at Monterey. The band
sounded inspired on the mixture of straight ahead and funky material with altoist Alex Han showing that he is a future great.
      
Michael Feinstein is an odd choice to book at a jazz festival and his late-night performance with a big band, a tribute to Frank Sinatra, ranged
from decent to corny. Guitarist Russell Malone and tenor-saxophonist Harry Allen, who should have had their own sets, made worthy but
relatively brief appearances. However Feinstein was great earlier in the day when he showed his vast knowledge in his discussion of the
origin of many tunes from the Great American Songbook.
      
The Minor Thirds Trio, a mellow group consisting of guitarists Brian Fitzgerald and Hood Chatham and bassist Patrick North, entertained
partyers on the South Lawn on Sunday afternoon. Trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom played high-powered avant-funk with his quintet that was
often happily overcrowded; altoist Gavin Templeton was particularly outstanding. Drummer Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band with Melvin
Butler and Myron Walden on saxophones performed heated and consistently stimulating music. Pamela Rose with organist Wayne De La
Cruz, was rollicking on “He Loves Nobody But Me,” highly expressive on “Close Your Eyes” and bluish on “It’s Raining.”  Pianist Harold Lopez-
Nussa is a passioate player with very impressive technique, a future giant from Cuba who was dazzling with his trio. After making many
guest appearances, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire finally had his own set, leading a modern quintet that included the outstanding tenor-
saxophonist Walter Smith III. Pianist Geoff Keezer, with bassist Richie Goods and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr, swung hard and with constant
creativity and exuberance during his brilliant performances, sometimes playing on the level of Oscar Peterson particularly on the uptempo
blues “Fourplay.” Tenor-saxophonist Ben Flocks sounded wonderful with his quintet on “Stardust,” playing with the beauty of Stan Getz.
Organist Tony Monaco’s trio with guitarist Bruce Forman performed a variety of blues and swing tunes with soul. Charles Lloyd and his
quartet with pianist Jason Moran played “What’s New,” “Let My People Go,” and Lloyd’s hit from the 1966 Monterey Festival “Forest Flower”
during a wide-ranging set that showed that the 76-year old saxophonist is still at the peak of his powers. Drummer Eric Harland’s Voyager
(which included Walter Smith, guitarist Julian Lage and pianist Taylor Eigsti) showed just how colorful and exciting modern jazz could be,
ranging from hard bop to free. Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis led a quartet that included his father pianist Ellis Marsalis. While Delfeayo was
excellent on “Autumn Leaves,” “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “The Flintstone’s Theme,” Ellis’ trio feature on “If I Were A Bell” was pure
magic, one of the highpoints of the entire festival.
      
Needless to say, attending the Monterey Jazz Festival is essential for any serious jazz lover!