Longwood Gardens' Wine and Jazz Festival: Kennett Square, PA, June 2, 2012
Next came a Duke Ellington touch, with the standard, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." For his trombone solo, Gordon quickly inserted a straight mute, on top of which he used a plunger mute, to almost virtuosic effect, leaving even trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and all other plungers in the dust. Oscar Perez contributed excellent piano work à la the Duke. Bassist Neil Caine and drummer Marion Felder (once again) pounded out competent solos as well. This was followed by Gordon's warm tribute to Armstrong, "Hello Pops."
Gordon then interjected a serious note with Armstrong's "Black and Blue," a traditional 4/4 eight-bar blues with psychosocial lyrics lamenting the plight of the African American male trying to maintain a precarious identity in a white man's world. Armstrong, who has sometimes unfortunately been stereotyped as an Uncle Tom by radical Blacks, showed in these lyrics that he was quite conscious of the pain felt by the black man during segregation. Gordon sang the song with great feeling, and hopefully the audience got the message in the middle of the relaxed atmosphere that Gordon otherwise generated.
The set concluded with "Hello Dolly" and "Down by the Riverside," the gospel song that Satch's Hot Five band made its own, Modern jazz has today evolved into a serious, sophisticated art form that stretches in many complex directions, and it was refreshing to hear the good old Southland music that makes the audience snap its fingers and tap its feet, even more so when played by a group that could knock the hell out of any chart put in front of them.
The wonderfully eclectic afternoon culminated in a star performance by Dianne Reeves, one of the premiere jazz vocalists in the world today, a virtuoso and many time Grammy Award-winner with improvisational prowess and brilliant, resilient stylings. As is the custom with many vocalists, her set began with an instrumental by the singer's regular sidemenpianist Peter Martin, bassist Chris Thomas and drummer Terreon Gullyand featured gifted Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, whose solos added a bossa-samba slice of Rio to the African, Hispanic, and blues-flavored styles that Reeves brought with her.
Reeves then came on the stage, and as soon as she belted out her first lustrous notes, dominated the whole afternoon. Her voice was at its best, and she exuded an enthusiasm comparable to Ella Fitzgerald, whose mixture of entertainment, scat, and straight-ahead jazz Reeves recapitulated throughout. Indeed, she began by improvising some words about the rain and other atmospherics, the same way that Fitzgerald made up her own lyrics for "Mack the Knife" and "The Cricket Song"the latter concocted at Juan Les Pins as a response to an infestation of insects that noisily took over the concert. It seemed a bit over the top for Reeves to use this Fitzgerald trademark; some things should, perhaps, be left to the originator. Reeves then went a step further, making up nonsense syllables to a number she heard on a Barcelona TV station. It would have honored the song and whoever had been the vocalist had Reeves taken the trouble to learn the Spanish lyrics. Nevertheless, it was all in good fun, and Reeves used her stunning voice to generate a healthy energetic.
Reeves followed up with a beautiful song dedicated to her mother, "Gonna Be a Good Day," then segueing into to the standard, "Stormy Weather," crossing a line between the sultry style demanded by the tune and more than a touch of Roberta Flack, killing us softly with that approach. Reeves then made up for her various attempts to generate fun with a stunning, rapturous version of "Our Love is Here to Stay" that could have rivaled Judy Garland. Lubambo's guitar playing here was superb and added a just right bossa nova style counterpoint to Reeves' glorious rendition. Reeves maintained her solid energy and passion throughout and brought an idyllic day to a grand conclusion.
All Photos: Victor L. Schermer