Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Naturally 7
Naturally 7

Esperanza
Esperanza (Photo by Pete Iovino)

 

By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer

The 2010 Playboy Jazz Festival, the 32nd, did its usual outstanding job of headlining something old, something new, something borrowed and something blues.  But thereís no question that the newbies were received as well, if not better, than some of the oldies and goodies.

Master of Ceremonies Bill Cosby announced the debut appearance of Placentiaís El Dorado High School Jazz Band as that group kicked off Day One with a four-song set. The noteworthy band played about 25 minutes and was followed by Jake Shimabukuro, whoís been given credit for single-handedly resurrecting the ukulele, showing it can be used to play everything from Bach to funk.

Now, in the past, this early in the lineup the crowd is usually kicking back, enjoying their picnic meals, not really feeling the music.  That is, until this year when first-timers Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue took the stage.  ìShorty,î who got his nickname from his brother trumpeter James Andrews who saw him marching in a street parade playing a trombone bigger than he was, also skillfully plays trumpet . . . and sings . . . and dances . . . and leads his band.  His performances were especially fun and funky on a James Brown groove ìI Feel Like Funkiní It Upî to his homage to Cab Callowayís ìMinnie the Moocher,î with the crowd fully engaged in the ìhi dee hi dee hi dee hoî response.

A soulful ìWhen the Saints Go Marching In,î complete with the New Orleanian and his band doing a little side-to-side two-step in unison, had folks waving their white napkins and shakiní their groove things.

Recent first-time Grammy jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, along with two-time Grammy- winning Ernie Watts on tenor sax, made his long overdue debut at the Playboy and was followed by hard-bop saxophonist Javon Jackson with special guest star and living miracle Les McCann of ìSwiss Movement/Compared to What/Cold Duck Timeî fame.  The singer-keyboardist, who suffered a stroke in the mid-1990s, came through the Artistsí Entrance in a wheelchair, but the only evidence of anything physically amiss was if you looked closely at the giant monitors and noticed that he played the piano with relatively straight, not curved, fingers.  On his seminal ìCompared to What,î thereís no denying that McCannís enthusiastic stylings still sound good.

Next up was a vocal ensemble that calls what it does ìvocal play.î  Naturally 7 is an a cappella group that closely emulates real instruments, especially percussive ones as on Phil Collinsí ìIn the Air Tonightî and Simon and Garfunkelís ìSounds of Silence and Scarborough Fairî medley.

The venerable Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, featuring elder statesman Eugene ìSnookieî Young on trumpet included drummer Jeff Hamiltonís tribute to Louie Bellson. And Chick Corea celebrated his 69th birthday with a mostly straight-ahead, mostly underappreciated, set, with his Freedom Band matesójazz stalwarts Kenny Garrett on sax, Christian McBride on bass and 85-years-young drummer Roy Haynes.  Corea was presented a cake by his friend and big jazz fan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and serenaded by someone who appeared to be his mom, who sang ìHappy Birthday.î

After Pete Escovedo and his progenyódrummer/singer Sheila E., drummer Peter Michael and percussionist Juanófired up the crowd with spirit, happiness and infectious rhythms, the first day came to a close with Chaka Khanís danceworthy ìAinít Nobodyî by Sax for Stax, with saxophonists Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum and keyboardist Jeff Lorber.

Day Two opened with the multitalented L.A. All District High School Band.  And then, with a name like Jazz Mafiaís Brass Bows and Beats:  A Hip-Hop Symphony, you knew the 50-piece orchestra in its debut appearance would throw down.  And throw down, they did, what with their eclectic mix of turntables, electronic instruments and strings playing a rich stew of jazz and hip hop.

In his standard Festival attire of an official T-shirt, black slacks, socks and clogs, timbale-playing percussionist, Mr. Cosby introduced this yearís Cos of Good Music, including Leon ìNduguî Chancler on Cosby-conducted ìOlÈî and ìRuth Caputreeî and a humorous turn on ìSweet Georgia Brown,î with Malcolm-Jamal Warner sharing his TV dadís hosting duties.

Robert Randolph & The Family Band made its triumphant 2nd appearance at the Playboy as masters of the pedal steel guitar.

If asked who made the most lasting impression on Sundayís crowd, the answer in resounding unison would hands-down be multiracial Esperanza Spalding:  Her lithe frame played an upright bass taller than she is as well as an electric bass. Plus she sings, her notes voiced with lightness and sweetness, and with uncanny, knowing accuracy and strengthónot only in English but also Spanish and Portuguese, in all languages with passion and soul.

With her signature Angela Davis-sized natural, Spalding utilized a vast array of rhythms, meters, sounds, beats, harmonies and cacophonies, switching mid-song from acoustic to electric bass on Earth Wind and Fire grooves to ìI Canít Help Itî by Michael Jackson.  Her novel audience-participation finale, ìíS Wonderfulî (from the classic film ìAn American in Parisî), sung in Portuguese, had her inviting the crowd to ìgo away together to Brazil.î

Truly, it was a wondrous set, as was Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestraís, which, as expected inspired the annual second line dancers into action.  Standard bearers vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Cedar Waltonís quartet showed the audience what swinging jazz is all about, with both jazz masters remaining at the top of their field and very much in their musical prime.

One of the worldís top Afro-pop singers, Salif Keita, who hails from Mali, is the rarest of performers: An albino, Keita sang in Malinka, Bambara, French and English, overcoming language barriers through the intensity and sincerity of his vocalizing as well as the beauty of his haunting voice in his debut performance.

Manhattan Transfer wowed the crowd with a slow, funky, heavily percussive ìSpainî by Chick Corea and a swinging Ella Fitzgerald favorite ìA Tisket A Tasket.î  The wow factor followed with George Benson, who, with the exception of a duet with fellow guitarist Earl Klugh and a cut from his upcoming CD, ìSongs and Stories,î due on August 25, did his standard greatest hits show, though admittedly the crowd never seems to tire of itóespecially his funky finale, ìOn Broadway.î

The festival came to an official close with Tiempo Libreís rousing display of Latin showmanship.

 

Category: Music




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