|THE 2017 MONTEREY JAZZ FESTIVAL
The 60th annual Monterey Jazz Festival showed once again that Monterey hosts one of the greatest festivals in the world. For 2 ½ days, the
Monterey Fairgrounds not only featured nearly nonstop music at five simultaneously operating major venues (the large Jimmy Lyons Stage,
the smaller Garden Stage and three indoor clubs: Dizzy’s Den, the Nightclub and the former Coffee House which has been remodeled, greatly
expanded and renamed the Pacific Jazz Cafe) but had three other areas of importance. Next to the colorful food park was the Jazz Education
Stage where an endless parade of mostly college bands played for diners and those rushing from one venue to another. Don Was and the Blue
Note label hosted the Blue Note At Sea Tent where many Blue Note artists were interviewed on stage, including Wayne Shorter and Joe
Lovano. And greeting fans near the front gate was the excellent jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker whose solo sets were filled with inventive
playing. I particularly enjoyed his renditions of “All the Things You Are” (which utilized a hot bassline), “Bernie’s Tune” and a fun version of
There is so much going on throughout the September weekend, which is overflowing with high-quality jazz, that one largely invents their own
jazz festival. One could easily experience three separate jazz festivals at Monterey without any duplication. The programming made it
particularly difficult this year with Kenny Barron competing with Roberta Gambarini, Dee Dee Bridgewater and trumpeter Sean Jones
performing at the same time, and the final hour on Sunday night featuring the duo of Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock, Vijay Iyer’s sextet and
James Carter’s Organ Trio in different locations.
Monterey officially began on Friday night with guitarist Ray Obeido’s Latin Jazz Project, an impressive septet that featured Melecio
Magdaluyo on reeds, pianist Peter Horvath and Phil Hawkins on steel drums. Their music was on the Latin side of Stanley Turrentine and
George Benson with soulful grooves at various tempos and colorful solos. Drummer Matt Wilson’s Honey & Salt, a tribute to the poetry of Carl
Sandburg, had fine solos from Jeff Lederer on saxophones, cornetist Ron Miles and guitarist Bruce Forman along with vocals and recitations
from pianist Dawn Clement; the instrumental stretches were of greatest interest.
Regina Carter has been the most significant jazz violinist since the death of Stephane Grappelli in 1997. She was featured with a different
group and concept on each of the three nights. On Friday she paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday with her quintet which featured
guitarist Marvin Sewell and pianist Xavier Davis. Calling the music “the B sides of Ella,” as on her recent CD, she mostly performed obscurities
and modernized versions of standards, unfortunately de-emphasizing swinging in favor of grooves and bluesy ballads. While her playing was
as brilliant as always, this was the least interesting of her three sets.
After briefly seeing the excellent Latin Jazz Collective (a seven-piece group led by John Nava on congas) and the hard bop quintet Along Came
Betty, a group with trumpeter Brian Stock and tenor-saxophonist Paul Tarantino that could pass for a Blue Note band from 1966, it was time
for pianist Kenny Barron’s tribute to his former boss, Dizzy Gillespie. Barron took “Con Alma” unaccompanied, saying “I never played this solo
before, so something could go terribly wrong.” Nothing did with Barron’s speedy runs being worthy of Art Tatum. He also performed “Tin Tin
Deo” with guest Pedrito Martinez on congas and several numbers with his trio. Trumpeters Sean Jones and Roy Hargrove appeared on two
songs apiece. Jones easily whipped through “Bebop.” Hargrove, who has had health problems in recent years, displayed a reinvented style on
“A Night In Tunisia,” sounding surprisingly like Chet Baker. Hargrove stuck to the middle register, had a cool tone, and used space expertly
while never making a misstep. The closing “Manteca” with both trumpeters, was a fascinating mixture of contrasts during the lengthy
tradeoffs. Jones’ chops were superior and he hit many spectacular high notes while Hargrove stuck to his register and had excellent ideas
throughout. The combination worked and was memorable.
The always magnificent Roberta Gambarini (does anyone today sing better?) scatted brilliantly over the closing vamp of “Devil May Care,”
displayed superb ballad singing on “A Time For Love” (perfectly placing her notes), and dug into Johnny Griffin’s “The JAMF’s Are Coming.”
Tenor-saxophonist Joel Frahm, leading a quartet comprised of Billy Childs on electric piano, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Peter Erskine,
performed the songs from the classic Stan Getz/Chick Corea album Captain Marvel. Frahm, who often played witty quotes, displayed an
original tone, plenty of energy, the ability to play fast lines easily, and constant creativity. Childs, while hinting at Chick Corea, showed that
he is a superb electric pianist. All in all, this was a brilliant set, highlighted by “500 Hundred Miles High” and “Time’s Lie.”
Saturday afternoon, which used to be dedicated to the blues, is now a grab-bag of styles and approaches. This year it included the spirited
World Music of Monsieur Perine (featuring vocalist Catalina Garcia), Dee Dee Bridgewater singing Memphis soul and r&b songs of the 1960s
(she could be at the top of that field if she wanted), high school big bands, and pleasing flute playing in a quartet by Ali Ryerson. There was
some surprising free jazz and one-chord vamps by a group led by trumpeter Sean Jones (who climaxed one piece by playing a slow full chorus
of “Danny Boy”), and a Tia Fuller blindfold test in which the altoist, while missing some of the selections, talked with eloquence about the
greatness of Eric Dolphy.
The biggest discovery for many at this year’s Monterey Jazz Festival was Mr. Sipp. Born Castro Coleman and sometimes billed as “the
Mississippi Blues Child,” he had a career in gospel music before switching to blues in 2013. Dancing on stage like Chuck Berry and influenced
by B. B. King, Mr. Sipp has an infectious, friendly, expressive and very musical style both as a guitarist and a singer. His solos excited the
crowd and for a long stretch he went out into the audience, shaking people’s hands while playing one inventive chorus after another. With the
shortage of important blues talent beyond the veteran Buddy Guy, Mr. Sipp may just be the one who will revitalize the blues.
Saturday night once again offered far too many choices. Kandace Springs is an attractive performer who with her trio showed potential both as
a standards singer and as a pianist who displayed her classical background. The great pianist Joanne Brackeen played three sets with her trio,
displaying her inside/outside style which is always quite original yet swinging in its own way. She cooked hard on an uptempo blues, came up
with fresh variations on “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and explored “Prelude To A Kiss” in a fascinating unaccompanied version. Regina
Carter, in her best set of the weekend, played swinging versions of standards that were often quite exciting including a medium-slow “When I
Grow Too Old To Dream,” a New Orleans original that became “The Saints,” and “Undecided.”
A tribute to Sonny Rollins (the only surviving bandleader from the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival) featured the tenors of Branford Marsalis, Joe
Lovano, Jimmy Heath and Joshua Redman playing an opening and closing number together and also being featured on one song apiece with
the support of pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash. “Tenor Madness” with the full group had Redman taking
solo honors. Marsalis did his best to emulate Rollins on the charming “Way Out West.” Lovano started and ended a ballad (which might have
been “It’s Always You”) freely while swinging during the middle section. The 90-year old Heath, the only saxophonist to talk to the audience,
spoke about his nearly 70-year friendship with Rollins and played “’Round Midnight” quite well on soprano, getting applause from his fellow
saxophonists. Redman played a Rollins blues. The hour concluded with everyone on an exciting ensemble-oriented version of “St. Thomas.”
Although I wish that there had been more interplay between the saxophonists, this was a strong set.
Sunday afternoon was highlighted by on-stage conversations with Jimmy Heath and Chick Corea, hosted by Ashley Kahn. Heath, who walks
and talks like he is 40, told hilarious and insightful stories about the jazz life. Saying “I’ve been diagnosed with age,” he talked about his late
1940s big band in Philadelphia, about how Miles stole his song “Serpent’s Tooth” (and how he could always get money on a moment’s notice
from a guilty Davis simply by mentioning the tune), and why he thought John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins became the best saxophonists
(“They practiced all the time”). Corea’s discussion was full of warmth with many questions from audience members who were visibly thrilled
to get the chance to talk with him.
Joe Lovano was in superb form during a quartet set that also featured consistently rewarding solos from pianist Lawrence Fields. Sticking
mostly to episodic and multi-sectioned originals, Lovano showed off his distinctive tone, used high notes as a natural part of his solos, explored
many moods and, with hints of Rollins and Joe Henderson, always sounded like himself. His set built up to a very high level, concluding with
the standard “It’s Easy To Remember.”
Altoist Tia Fuller and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, both of whom are superior players, teamed up in a post-bop quintet that included the talented
pianist Shamie Royston. The group has a great deal of potential and will hopefully stay together for some time.
On Sunday night, one had the rare chance to see the brilliant pianist Chano Dominguez who displayed very impressive technique that mixed
his Spanish heritage with swinging jazz. Mandolinist-singer Chris Thiele and pianist Brad Mehldau teamed up for what could be considered
modern Americana that was filled with folkish originals and melodic music. Regina Carter with accordionist Wil Holshouser and guitarist
Marvin Sewell in her Southern Comfort quintet performed music that was not that different than Mehldau’s in its emphasis on vintage roots.
Carter’s repertoire, all beautifully played, ranged from country waltzes and dance music to updated folk songs and ballads, some of it based on
field recordings from her grandfather’s time.
Monterey ended in spectacular fashion with the remarkable James Carter and his organ trio. Carter can do anything on the tenor (or any
reed) creating an often-hilarious variety of sounds including upper register screams, honks, growls, furious roars and multiphonic chords. He
can emulate nearly any other saxophonist and sometimes utilizes circular breathing. With organist Gerald Gibbs (who could not help smiling)
and drummer Alex White, Carter paid tribute to organist Sarah McLawler with Eddie Durham’s “My Whole Life” and performed a variety of
obscure Django Reinhardt compositions from the 1940s. Sometimes he played a chorus fairly straight or sounded like Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis,
and at other times he seemed to be imitating a hurricane or the high notes of the organ. On one piece his slap-tonguing was the loudest I have
ever heard. Being the closing act, James Carter played a half-hour extra and no one complained!
It was a perfect close to a memorable festival. Any jazz fan who lives on the West Coast should not hesitate to make an annual visit to the
Monterey Jazz Festival.