LAKE GEORGE JAZZ WEEKEND (Day 1)
Shepard Park, Lake George, NY
September 15, 2007
by J Hunter
Notes from a meteorologically-lucky Lake George Jazz Festival:
IT'S A FAMILY AFFAIR: Adela Dalto negotiated Travel Hell to get to Lake George, and when she finally got here, a cold showed up with her. It was easy to believe her travails with the airlines (I've shown up a day late for my flight, too), but the cold was a non-factor as Dalto charmed the early arrivals with a shining set of accessible Brazilian and Brazilian-influenced music. The magnetic singer's best moments happened when she flushed the sorrow out of standards like Johnny Mercer's Days of Wine and Roses and Buffy Saint-Marie's Until It's Time for You to Go. Both lyrics are melancholy in the extreme, but Dalto flipped their meanings with effervescent interpretations that banished anything remotely depressing.
Adela came to Jazz at The Lake packing a flame-thrower named Jacques Schwarz-Bart; if you're not familiar with the native of Guadeloupe, check out his vibrant tenor sax on Ari Hoenig's disc Inversations (Dreyfus Jazz, 2007). Schwarz-Bart's solos here were simply electric, adding momentum to Dalto's already-passionate performance. The set's anchor was Miles Dalto, Adela's second son, who led the quartet and played powerful, percussive piano. Miles continues the family musical tradition that began with Jorge Dalto, Adela's late husband, who was a major player in New York City in the 70's and 80's. That tradition could go farther, too: One of my grandchildren is around here somewhere, Adela laughed.
FREEDOM FROM FEAR: To some, 'Free Jazz' means sheets of ear-splitting cacophony that makes as much sense as a fractal painting, and takes just as long to decipher. Rashied Ali's set sounded nothing like the previous description, but it was 'Free Jazz' - free from fear, free from boundaries, and free to explore. Exploration is old hat to Ali: Aside from his time with John Coltrane, the phenomenal drummer has saddled up with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, and James 'Blood' Ulmer, so Ali's young quintet had an experienced guide as to the musical unknown. Armed with a set of tunes from Ali's latest disc Judgment Day Vol. 1 and 2 (Survival Records, 2006), the Ali Quintet used a hard-bop take on Jaco Pastorius' Dania to launch the festivities - and when I say 'launch', I'm speaking in NASA terms.
Josh Evans' trumpet was as bright as the sunshine flashing through the trees, and Lawrence Clark blew volcanic tenor throughout, particularly on his composition Judgment Day. Bassist Joris Teepe was playing with a torn rotator cuff - an injury he incurred a month before - but you couldn't have told, given the wonderfully rich solos he served up with seeming ease as he played with the band for the first time in a month. As for Ali, he is a card-carrying member of that hallowed fraternity of drummers over age 70 that can tear it up like an offending paper bag. It's unclear whether Ali inspires the band or the band inspires Ali, but the end result is just the same, and just as epic.
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL: Steve Martin once said it was impossible to stay angry if you're listening to - or playing - a banjo. In that same light, it is impossible to stay angry if you're listening to (or playing with) the Caribbean Jazz Project. For example, CJP keyboardist Alain Mattet had serious issues with the sound mix; he had a one-way, arm-waving, off-mic discussion with group founder Dave Samuels on the subject, and pulled one of the monitors onto the stool of his Hammond B3, which Mattet had turned off in frustration with the audio. But Mattet was smiling like a happy man by the second half of CJP's set, using his piano as a sharp foil to Samuels' flying mallets.
Samuels is a man with a Teflon temperament: Nothing sticks to it, and nothing gets him down. To see Samuels play vibes and electric marimba is to watch a man doing the work he loves. It's the same vibe Samuels provided Spyro Gyra in that group's early days, only the Caribbean Jazz Project has an authenticity Jay Beckenstein's group never quite achieved. And the audience loved everything CJP did; the salsa-dancing couples at the foot of the stage were a fine testament to that. Even in the oncoming Adirondack chill, it was sunshine on the beach on a summer's day, and you can't ask for a better way to close the next-to-last day of the festival season.
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.