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James Moody

Terence Blanchard

Tim Coakley

Return To Forever

Fieldwork's Vijay Iyer

Joe Lovano

Lee Shaw Trio

Ernestine Anderson

Chris Potter

Eric Harland


by J Hunter

Okay, in the spirit of energy conservation, I’m skipping my usual disorganized ramblings in favor of… well, relatively organized ramblings! Work for you? Then let’s light this candle!
THE “MOST VOLUBLE PLAYER” AWARD -- JAMES MOODY (still one of the best tenor players in the game) kept both the MONTEREY JAZZ ALL-STARS and the audience at Proctors in stitches with a hilarious series of ex tempore monologues. Moody’s sense of humor extended to the music, too, via a side-splitting take on “Pennies from Heaven” that seriously re-wrote the biography of Monterey Jazz musical director BENNY GREEN.
THE “JAZZ BOOMERANG” AWARD – TERENCE BLANCHARD just kept coming back: Blanchard and Moody made up Monterey Jazz’ front line; Blanchard’s own quintet did two shows over three days in Saratoga (at SPAC and Skidmore Jazz Institute, respectively); and he led a full-orchestra rendering of A Tale of God’s Will (Requiem for Katrina) at Tanglewood. Throw in his adjunct gig at Skidmore, and Blanchard could have applied for Resident status.
THE “LOCAL HERO” AWARD (Concert Division) – TIM COAKLEY and his merry band at A PLACE FOR JAZZ gave the Capital Region yet another vibrant and diverse season, presenting BILL CHARLAP, the LEE RUSSO QUARTET, BEN ALLISON & MAN SIZE SAFE, JOE LOCKE (who got nosed out by Blanchard for the “Jazz Boomerang”) and KARRIN ALLYSON. Of all the venues jazz calls home in this area, APFJ remains in a class by itself.
THE “WE’RE PUTTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER” AWARD – Most reunion tours tank because they just can’t recapture the moment. Not RETURN TO FOREVER, who were as volcanic at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival as they were back in the day. They also closed a wild Saturday show that featured DEEDEE BRIDGEWATER, SAXOPHONE SUMMIT, CONRAD HERWIG’S ‘LATIN SIDE OF (Miles/Trane/Shorter)’, JENNY SCHEINMANN, and more!
THE “NEW GIG ON THE BLOCK” AWARD – EMPAC made its debut in October, and shows by WYNTON MARSALIS’ JAZZ @ LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA, ROY HAYNES & THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH BAND, and FIELDWORK (featuring VIJAY IYER) were part of the festivities. While RPI’s new venue is an amazing facility, its commitment to live jazz (beyond the grand opening celebration) remains to be seen. Let’s keep hope alive!
And now, to honor Keith Olbermann and Steven Colbert, will you please rise as we present… THE TOP 5 CAPITAL REGION JAZZ SHOWS OF 2008!
Williamstown Jazz Festival
’62 Center for the Arts, Williams College – Williamstown, MA
The King of New York gets this nod because the ROBERT GLASPER TRIO turned right instead of left, driving all the way to Boston in the process! Lovano (the headliner of WJF’s anchor concert) graciously agreed to play first… and then completely blew the doors off the joint with a searing tribute to the late tenor icon DEWEY REDMAN, aided by Redman alums MATT WILSON, FRANK KIMBROUGH and JOHN MENEGON. The Glasper Trio did eventually make the gig, but their jittery jazz/hip-hop hybrid simply couldn’t match what came before.
‘Jazz at the Lake ‘08’ (Day 2)
Shepard Park – Lake George, NY
If the first day of Lake George Jazz Weekend’s 25th anniversary wasn’t enough to catch a new set of angels for the best little jazz festival in New York, then the second day would have surely done the trick: Shaw gave us a taste of her then-unreleased CD/DVD package Live in Graz (ARC); Blackman left her trademark trippy-hippie togs at home, leaving room in her bag for several hundred megatons of funk-filled fusion; and E/O proved for the second straight year that “big band” and “big fun” are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Hart Theatre @ the Egg
Albany, NY
Concerts like this are why I don’t file this column until the last show is done! This wasn’t your grandfather’s Christmas show: No red sweaters, no roaring fires, no Bataan Death March-length singalongs – just your basic holiday classics processed through the multifaceted prism of a band that is truly like no other. (Hey, the “drummer” plays something that looks like a mutant Guitar Hero controller!) If you chose Trans-Siberian Orchestra over Béla Fleck & Flecktones, leave your Cool Card with the troll at the door, and don’t even think about asking for a bailout!
Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival
Palace Theatre – Albany, NY
Watching her hobble across the stage, you’d have thought Anderson would struggle to even pick up the microphone, let alone sing into it. Not only did she pick it up, but the octogenarian vocal legend raised the roof of Albany Riverfront’s wet-weather venue with a galvanizing set of jazz and blues standards. DAVID SANBORN, the BRUBECK BROTHERS QUARTET, and KEITH PRAY’S BIG SOUL ENSEMBLE did great work of their own on this soggy afternoon, but Anderson was literally the Queen of the Hop.
…and the #1 Capital Region Jazz Show of 2008 is… A TIE!!!!
Filene Concert Series
Filene Recital Hall, Skidmore College – Saratoga Springs, NY
As if their free summer shows weren’t enough, everybody’s favorite liberal-arts school doubled down with a bargain-priced concert series that showed the scope of jazz in the 21st century: Potter proved his Underground side project should definitely be his primary focus; Mehldau showed why many believe he’s the premier pianist of his generation; and Eric Harland made his debut as a leader with a truly uplifting set of originals. Percussion shaman YACUB ADDY closed out the series, but the real gold was in the first three shows.
And that’s a wrap! Stay safe, enjoy your holidays and your loved ones, and we’ll see you in 2009. Peace!

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) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.