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James Moody

Slide Hampton

Trio Beyond

Carl Allen

Ravi Coltrane

Hayes Greenfield

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY
June 24, 2007

by J Hunter

More notes from the 30th annual Freihofer's Jazz Festival:

DIZZY AND TONY REMEMBERED: I had worried that taking Slide Hampton's Dizzy Gillespie tribute to a big-band format would rob it of the humor that set Diz apart from the rest. No worries. Aside from the fact that the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band hits you like a freight train (How could it not, given it includes luminaries like Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, Claudio Roditi, Jimmy Heath, and James Moody?), there were more than enough fun-loving people onstage to keep the crowd laughing as often as they were cheering. Moody's hilarious scat-song “Moody's Mood” was pure Diz, and Hargrove upped the ante when he engaged Moody in a scat-singing contest. Despite all the great trumpet players in the band, Hargrove is the perfect Dizzy substitute, as he showed on a soaring rendition of “I Remember Clifford.” This group deserved the ninety minutes George Benson wasted the previous evening.

Trio Beyond was the name that really stood out for me when Freihofer's released this year's lineup. I'd voted Saudades (ECM, 2006) one of the top 5 discs of last year, and the thought that Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield and Larry Goldings were going to take their Tony Williams homage on the road definitely improved my mood. It still astounds me that their set left me as cold as it did. To make a long story short, they re-enacted the disc. Not that it isn't great to see these amazing musicians play anything - up to, and including, “Chopsticks” - but I have the disc at home. I know an hour set isn't a long time, but some further exploration of Williams' career would have been preferable.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE GAZEBO: The good part about leaving Trio Beyond's set was I got the chance to see Anat Fort. The Israeli pianist recently released A Long Story…, an ECM disc straight out of the label's early days, eerily reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's work before he became obsessed with recasting the Great American Songbook. Fort's intelligent, complex music is a big bite to swallow for the casual jazz fan, and her free-space duet jam with reedman Perry Robinson cleared a few people out. For those who got it, though, the experience was amazing.

While not as powerful as Saturday's bill, Sunday's Gazebo show was pretty darn good. Peter Bernstein's organ trio served up an hour of hollow-body blues, driven by Mike LeDonne's sterling Hammond B3. If Kurt Elling is missing his voice, he needs to look no further than Sachal Vasandani, who writes funny, intelligent lyrics when he's not covering Strayhorn or Jobim. The big hit was Carl Allen & New Spirit, who got a second bite at the crowd after opening the Main Stage earlier in the day. If that first set was great, then the Gazebo show was sensational: Allen boiled down Terence Blanchard's “Clockers” from a grand orchestral piece to an anarchic quartet; Vincent Herring blew alto sax as fiery as I've ever heard him on “I Thought About You”, spurred on by Aaron Goldberg's righteous piano; and DesRon Douglas' bass - lost in the sauce of the Main Stage mix - was fat and fuzzy as he laid down the floor for Allen's fine new material. Blowing off Norman Brown's Summer Soul for a second helping of New Spirit was a given. (Besides, putting Peabo Bryson and Jeff Lorber on the same stage only proves two wrongs don't make a right!)

THE FRUIT DOESN'T FALL FAR: Ravi Coltrane is as loose as you could be on stage, goofing with both the audience and his band. (“The drummer gets his own roadie,” he mock-groused between songs at E.J. Strickland, whose kit needed a quick fix. “That's not fair!”) And where his father worked the very high end of the scale, Ravi tunnels under you from the low end of his tenor sax's range. The ends are the same, though: Beautiful, blissful, spiritual music filled with light and energy that puts you in a trance one moment, and gets you on your feet the next. I missed Ravi's set at Williamstown this year, but - fortunately - life is full of second chances.

JAZZFEST GETS SOME LOVE: I've been complaining for years about Freihofer's allowing the Gazebo to be surrounded by tents, cutting off sightlines and restricting access. Not only were tents banished from the immediate area, but walkways were placed around all three sides of the Gazebo's audience area. Bravo!

Also, mad props to whoever booked Hayes Greenfield & Jazzmatazz for both days of the festival. Greenfield - an educator who's been bringing jazz to schools for ten years - did a funny, accessible, interactive set that walked kids through terms and styles of the genre. Twenty minutes in, he had kids up on stage scat singing! Hardcore jazzers weren't amused, but I have to think Greenfield helped some children understand why their parents insisted on dragging them to this big crowded place on a perfectly good day.

The 31st anniversary party will be held June 28th and 29th, 2008. See you then.

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.