Freihofer Jazz Fest Burns In Saratoga
Kurt Rosenwinkel's group played both stages to good response. His inventive, curious way and clear intonation of notes was a refreshing breath. The band did standards like "Stablemates and a moving "Round Midnight as well as original music. Mark Turner's tenor sax blended well. He has quietly become a player to be heard and accounted for.
Tyner and company set the standard on the main stage, playing propulsive and high-charged music, pushed by the dexterous and sometimes percussive hands of the pianist. Coltrane wailed over the rhythm section, soaring and screeching at times, and sailing calmly at others. He seems to keep getting better as his last two CD attest. And how great must it have been for Stafford to have Mulgrew in his band early in the day, only to change clothes and go play with Tyner later. He is blowing as great as ever these days. Fiery music.
Donaldson, the 70-something bebopper, laid out what you'd expect. Blues infected jazz that made him a big-timer on the original Blue Note label in the 1950s. He chose songs from the Charlie Parker songbook, as well as his trademark "Blues Walk and funky "Alligator Boogaloo. He also blew some of the best pure blues heard at the fest. His guitarist, Richard Johnston, was equally dexterous and was an excellent foil to the sax.
The other "old man, Brubeck, 84, did his usual solid job with the folks he's played with for a long time now. People may miss the Paul Desmond sound, but Bobby Militello's sax work is strong and he negotiates the Brubeck songbook expertly.
As for vocalists, Lizz Wright's set was good. The more she goes on, her beautiful voice seems to be more parts folk and R&B than jazz. but she's interesting. Most of her selections were mellow, from her new Dream Wide Awake disk. But she has a real presence and it will be interesting to see how this still-new songstress develops. Wilson and Jarreau sang with the same band in a long festival-ending set, as did Boney James. Wilson is her usual exploring, sultry self, but is better in her own setting. Jarreau has a feel for jazz as well as pop, but his style is way too over-the-top for these ears. Stop trying so hard. James is funky, with a good tone. It might be nice to hear him apply himself to other music.
Botti, a "smooth player also, has tried to apply himself to other stuff with his last CD, When I Fall In Love. It's not a bad accounting, but he'll never be mistaken for Lee Morgan. hiring the incredible Billy Kilson (late of the first-rate Dave Holland band) on drums is a good move. But the basic rhythm of the arrangements was unexciting. Still, not a bad performance. Pizzarelli did his usual good job of covering stands and is still doing selections from his all-Beatles Cd of a few years back. He has a pleasant voice and swings like mad. Sometimes his vocals, not particularly exciting, overshadow the fact that he plays a mean guitar.
David Sanchez, a challenging, exploring and very creative saxophonist, did a fine job with his working band. Days before the festival, he bemoaned the fact that there is too much pressure for him to be booked with "all-star bands with other "name players. He would like to develop a sound, "a band that sounds like a band, and he's right on target with this group, as the new CD Coral will attest. Sanchez has a gorgeous sound and an open spirit that comes out in his music.
Festival clunker of the year: You could go 23 lifetimes and never meet a single eunuch. On stage Saturday night, they managed to get four saxman Richard Elliot, trumpeter Rick Braun, guitarist Jonathan Butler and guitarist Peter White all in one place to blare out dentist office music. Amazing? Well... no. Cloying? Indeed.
But the picnic/party festival remains a treat for upstate New York and those attending, in between struggling with heat that was more like Miami, could find much to enjoy and in varying styles. The SPAC grounds are always graced by this weekend of art. And vice versa.