Newport Jazz Festival As Strong As Ever
There's not a lot of virtuoso with Hancock, but his playing is still great, strong, supportive of the music. Lionel Loueke's guitar is an important voice in the band. Hancock doesn't mind being different and the results were quite good.
The star power of legendary artists like Ahmad Jamal gave a lot to the festival. Then, when you sprinkle in stellar talents like Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue, Arturo O'Farrill, Matt Wilson, Jason Moran, Anat Cohen, Julian Lage, and more, and it fans out into a great musical event.
Wein even had his musical moments, bringing back his Newport Allstars, in which he plays piano with a quintet or sextet. This year, he expanded, borrowing players from other groups that were appearing. His astonishing horn section featured Anat Cohen, Harry Allen, Randy Brecker and Randy Sandke. Howard Alden played sweet guitar and Jeff Ballard provided rhythmic support. They had fun, flat out, blowing freely on standards like "Softly As In a Morning Sunrise," and "Maha de Carnival." Their fun extended to the crowd. Allen blew engaging tenor sax at each turn, Cohen was excellent on clarinet, paying twisting, turning, swinging lines with superior dexterity. Her smiles and exuberance throughout the set reflected the atmosphere. And the trumpeters blew like mad, both among the finest technicians on their instrument. Brecker was a particular pleasure, bright, bold and clever.
Speaking of trumpets, walking around that weekend one could encounter an amazing array of people playing that royal instrument. Marsalis is a helluva player whose lines flowed effortlessly and cleanly during his set, driving the music and setting a wild mainstream pace. Jon Faddis continues to astound with technique such that he could blow the bell off the horn. And it's not gymnastics. He's created during those furious statements. Brecker and Sandke were both a pleasure and got plenty of chance to offer inspired solos, especially on "What Is This Thing Called Love."
Add to that Ingrid Jensen, who played with both the Maria Schneider Orchestra and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society. She played beautiful, robust melodic lines. Great tone and tells great stories in her improvisations; clean and articulate. Shane Endsley with Ben Allison's group was also a treat; great attack on his horn and making statements that fit sweetly into the spirit of each tune.
Dave Douglas, with his Brass Ecstasy band, showed why he has gained such acclaim over the last decade or so. He's a daring trumpeter, playing great flowing lines; blowing short rhythmic statements that push the music, or squealing and squawking outside the meter on different, exciting jaunts. He's a very strong player who can carry out remarkable, imaginative lines that go on for a long time. And always creative. This band had tuba, French horn, trombone and the music at times had an old-time feel, yet a modern edge. He also paid tribute to trumpeters on most of the tunes: "Rava," for Enrico Rava; "Fats" for Fats Navarro, and "Bowie" for Lester Bowie.
Another nice thing about the festival was the camaraderie among musicians backstage. It was nice to see so many catching up, shaking hands, hugging. At one point there was a gathering of drummer Matt Wilson Kendrick Scott, Nasheet Waits and Rudy Royston. Wilson's band included his wife Felicia on violin. The couple and their four children stayed around for some time, digging the music and fellow musicians. Scott, from Houstonin addition to playing great, as always, sported his cowboy hat while strolling around listening to tunes and chatting with friends.
Brubeck sat for a while in a comfortable armchair in the media tent, then spotting an old friend bellowed "Charlie Bourgeois!" and had a brief chat with the man who was one of Wein's main lieutenants going back to the very beginning of the festival. Brubeck first played there in 1955 and has appeared at more Newport fests than anyone.
There also appears to be a great voice at Newport, in that musicians know they're in a hallowed place. There's a feeling there. They bring their "A" game. And the audience is extremely supportive.
Ultimately, Wein is a special cat and he's made, once again, the Newport Jazz Festival special.
All Photos: R.J. DeLuke