FREIHOFER'S JAZZ FESTIVAL (Day 2)
Saratoga Performing Arts Center
Sunday, June 26th
by J Hunter
Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. - Noel Coward
Here are my sweat-stained notes from the almost tropical second day of the Freihofer's Jazz Festival:
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON: Whereas first-day openers The Motet tried too hard and delivered too little, Sunday starters the Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet hit the ground running and never looked back. Although the young guitarist was scheduled to close the Gazebo, leaving this outstanding set early was not an option. This caused me to miss what I've been told was an outstanding performance by the Jean-Michel Pilc Trio.
The pattern kept repeating: Amphitheatre performances and Gazebo sets seemed to overlap completely, even though the schedule called for Gazebo shows to start 15 minutes later. Sunday's Gazebo was promoted as a snapshot of the current New York City jazz scene. It was going to be special. But between high-quality Amphitheatre sets and the difficulty of negotiating the crowd, I'm surprised I saw any of the Gazebo acts. I applaud Freihofer's for making the second stage more than an afterthought, but they need to widen the space between show starts, so Gazebo artists can get the due they deserve.
JAZZ IS DEAD? DUDE, IT AIN'T EVEN SICK: If it were the same people playing the same music, getting older and older (the people and the music), maybe I'd agree with the Jazz Is Dead crowd. But there are more young lions roaming the jungle, and this latest generation doesn't wear suits.
The Rosenwinkel Quartet's Gazebo set was better (and looser) than their main stage show, as Rosenwinkel and tenorman Mark Turner showed the fruits of their longtime partnership. David Sanchez' Latin bop demonstrated how maturity doesn't have to diminish power; breaking away from this show was painful in the extreme. However, the Ben Allison Kush Trio soothed the pain with punk-funk jazz worthy of The Bad Plus. The Dafnis Prieto Quintet broke through any barriers Allison hadn't knocked down, stunning the crowd with a dissonant energy that separates them from all other Latin jazz groups.
IT WASN'T NEW! AND YOUR POINT IS?: The one criticism I heard of Trio (aka Bela Fleck, Stanley Clarke & Jean-Luc Ponty) was that they spend too much time on virtuosity. News flash, Maynard: THEY'RE VIRTUOSOS! Although a longer set would have given them room to experiment, this collaboration should have taken anybody's breath away. The Dave Brubeck Quartet offered no surprises, but surprises (or big surprises, at any rate) aren't what Brubeck does nowadays. Just seeing the 80-year old legend still playing is a treat, and multi-instrumentalist Bobby Militello proved he doesn't deserve the bad rap he gets simply because He's not Paul Desmond.
RIGHT SONG, WRONG SOUND: Apparently, Smooth Jazz musicians believe the way to bring the fun back to jazz involves extreme volume and annoying choreography. This was to be expected from Smooth mainstay Chris Botti - though, to his credit, the trombonist gave a welcome free rein to drummer Billy Kilson, charter member of the incredible Dave Holland Quintet.
Sadly, the More Is More method drove headliner Hot Summer Nights, which teamed celebrated vocalists Al Jarreau and Cassandra Wilson with Smooth saxman Boney James. The backup band's blaring assault worked for James, who hasn't a subtle bone in his body. But the nuance-free atmosphere totally overwhelmed the singers. I was most disappointed with Wilson, who was more R&B diva than jazz interpreter on this night. Her best moment came when the band dropped out of her duet with Jarreau on My Favorite Things, letting the artists create in the clear.
Despite my problems with bands like Hot Summer Nights and Jazz Attack, their wild popularity shows Freihofer's doesn't have to feature non-jazz performers to build attendance. That said, Smooth wasn't the only thing that had the crowd running to the main stage or jockeying for space at the Gazebo. Mad dogs and Englishmen have got nothing on jazz fans, especially when presented with a tasty bill of fare. Nobody went home hungry Sunday night.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.