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Christian Scott

Christian Scott guitarist

Christian Scott pianist

Christian Scott saxophonist

photos by Albert Brooks

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga, NY
June 25, 2006

by J Hunter

Notes from Day 2 of the Freihofer's Jazz Festival:

ALMOST DODGED THE BULLET: If the Weather Channel were infallible, this fest would have been a washout. As it happened, the first drops didn't start falling until Sonya Kitchell came on to close the Gazebo bill. (I have only one thing to say about Kitchell: This is what comes from record labels insisting, “One Norah Jones just isn't enough.”)

HERE WE GO, LOOP DE LOOP: Okay, I don't want to sound like a Luddite here, but the Effects Box is getting way too prevalent in jazz. Kaki King sort of gets a pass on this, if only because she does a good job of mining the same vein Bill Frisell's been working. (i.e. Blues and Folk combined with loops) However, even though it's key to their attempt to play outside the box, a reliance on effects had a negative effect on an otherwise great Gazebo set by Robin Eubanks EB3. The Dave Holland Quintet trombonist's got a funky little unit, especially with Michelle Rosewoman tearing it up on keyboards and keyboard bass. But the virtual bells & whistles should be a compliment, not a detriment.

OLD SKOOL vs. OLD SCHOOL: As I recall, the Stanley Clarke/George Duke Project was an attempt to make a funkier, more commercial Return To Forever. I wasn't a fan of it then, and I could have done without this reunion, which felt more and more like a Classic Rock band searching for its old greatness. There was lots and lots of sizzle, but the only steak on the menu was served up during Clarke's solo acoustic spot.

By comparison, the flashiest thing about the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was the trombone player's red socks. This was, essentially, a museum piece: Seven men sitting still, for the most part, playing chestnuts like “Basin Street Blues” and “After You've Gone” the way Woody Allen would like to play them. But when the Mardi Gras clowns jump out into the crowd for “Last Chance To Dance/When The Saints Go Marchin' In”, you can't help but Second Line, and that's just what some of the amphitheatre crowd did - myself included.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: The most amazing thing about this year's Dave Brubeck Quartet set was Brubeck didn't try to rush through “Take Five”; in years past, he truly stretched the definition of “a fast 5/4.” The 85-year old icon doesn't have to prove anything, and is perfectly content to leave the heavy lifting (No pun intended) to sax/flute player Bobby Militello, who is starting to resemble Jared before he found Subway. Flashes of the young Brubeck could be seen earlier in the day at the Gazebo, when the John Stetch Trio played with time and tone like Monk in his prime.

THE FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT…: I've been raving to anyone who would listen about Christian Scott's debut disc, Rewind That (Concord); after his otherworldly Gazebo show, a lot of other people should be raving about him, too. The crowd behind the seats was six deep and howling as Scott and his fiery sextet opened with an unrecorded piece that said, “There's plenty more where the last disc came from!” It's a dead heat which I liked more: Scott's cutting contest with sax player Louis Fouchet on the closer “Rewind That”, or the band's outrageous cover of the Funky Meters' “The Sissy Strut”.

GIVE IT A REST: “I guess y'all haven't seen me in so long,” Etta James drawled, “Y'all didn't know who I was!” I know I didn't. The last time I saw James was 14 years ago, when she headlined the San Jose Jazz Festival. At the time, she was pushing 300 pounds, and she spent more time making lewd movements and gestures than she did singing the Blues.

At least 150 of those pounds were long gone Sunday night when she opened her set with “I Just Wanna Make Love To You”. The weight was gone, but the sexual “antics” were worse. She humped her chair and did the bump-and-grind while leaning on the front of her keyboardist's Hammond B3 (which was facing the audience, by the way); she pushed her guitarist's head between her legs during her cover of Johnny 'Guitar' Watson's “I Wanna Ta-Ta You, Baby”; and during “I'd Rather Be Blind”… Well, let's put it this way: When a singer starts performing on the microphone, instead of with the microphone, that's where I draw the line!

LAST WORDS: I can handle jazz fests booking acts like Susan Tedeschi, since she has the dedication to Blues that Bonnie Raitt used to have before people started writing hits for her. And I'm resigned to dealing with Smooth Jazz, and with old R&B acts like Smokey Robinson, because they sell tickets. (Hey, these shows cost money!) But Etta James has become a cross between a comedy act and a peep show. I wasn't laughing, I definitely wasn't aroused, and promoters ought to start drawing lines of their own.

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.