Friday, April 30, 2010

Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour

Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour

The University of Arizona presents an arts program each year consisting of classical music, jazz, ballet, and other fine arts. This April, they brought to town a group called The Monterey Jazz Festival, featuring Regina Carter, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, and Kurt Elling.

Each year since 1958, the Monterey Jazz Festival is a three day festival, with educational clinics and workshops, performances of course, food, celebration, and all the rest. (This year’s festival is September 17-19 and will feature Dianne Reeves). Then festival performers go “on the road” to bring high quality jazz performances to the rest of the country. It is not clear how these performers are selected each year, but right now it is the group described above.

I attended this performance because of Regina Carter, who I think is the best jazz violinist in the world right now. It was a thrill to see and hear her perform. The only CD she was selling that night was “I’ll be seeing you: A sentimental journey (2006),” not her latest one, “Reverse thread” (2010). The sentimental journey disc is dreadful, full of popular tunes from the 30’s and ‘40s. She adds her unique pizzazz to them, but the disc is obviously designed for a general audience and is not any kind of adventure. I bought it anyway, just so I could say hello to her after the show while getting her autograph, and tell her how much I admired her work. She is a quiet, gentle, and modest person, younger than I thought. And she has a beautiful face. When I raved on about her 2001 CD, Freefall, she said only (“I’m always grateful to work with Kenny”).

Anyway, that CD signing ritual thing is cruelty to performers but I guess it is part of the job. I’m sure they are not capable of hearing anything said to them after their exhausting performance. Malone was actually yawning with fatigue. I complimented him anyway on his performance and told him I enjoyed his disc with Benny Green (Jazz at the Bistro). Barron, who must be at least in his mid-70’s, did not show up for the signing. Bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Drummer Johnathan Blake were also absent. I shook hands with Kurt Elling and left.

The playlist was tame, unfortunately. Tucson has a lot of retirees. I was one of the youngest people in the concert hall. So the group apparently geared the performance so as not to frighten anyone. That was a disappointment. Also, there is not a lot of money in Tucson. With tickets running $30 to $75, there were not too many young people. I estimated an audience of about 1000, so the concert was a success. It’s pretty amazing that many people turned out on a Tuesday night in a place that must seem like the absolute ends of the Earth for these performers. Tucson, AZ? I venture to guess their show is entirely different in San Francisco or New York. I had a cheap seat way back in row FF, but with a pair of Bausch & Lomb binoculars I felt like I was in the front row. Acoustics in the old, restored Centennial Hall are not excellent but quite adequate.

The group opened with a lively piece by McCoy Tyner that featured scat singing by vocalist Elling. Then Carter soloed on a selection originally performed by Stuff Smith, and amazingly, she made it sound exactly like Stuff Smith was playing. That was cool. Barron did a featured piece called New York Attitude, followed by Malone with an emotional ballad from the film, “an Affair to Remember.” Elling sang Horace Silver’s humorous number, “Soul Food.” I admit I am not a huge fan of jazz vocals. I love Johnny Hart and Mel Torme, and a few others of that caliber, but in general, I find that the singer’s ego gets in the way of the music and spoils it for me. Elling is a huge star, but I did not immediately take to his style or to his very limited vocal range. I realize scat singing is hard to do, but I can only take it for about a minute or two then it becomes boring. I thought Elling did more shouting than singing. Also, he doesn’t move well, so his performance seems stiff. The audience seemed to appreciate him quite well, so I guess he just does not appeal to my taste.

Kenny Barron played his own composition, “Calypso” which had good Caribbean rhythms and even sounded like steel drums in places, but the highlight was a wonderful drum solo by Blake. While he was very fast and flashy with the sticks, it was his feet that made the solo great. He kept a hypnotic dance rhythm going underneath the brilliant work on top. It was very Caribbean, very driving, and yet complex, and I thought I could be dancing around a bonfire on the beach and by the end of it I was disoriented. It was a pretty spectacular drum solo. There were plenty of other interesting offerings, including a Monk tune (which I can hum, but cannot name right now) that devolved into scat singing. Regina and Kenny played a soul-stirring duet of Georgia on My Mind, in which she demonstrated again why she is the master of her craft. Astonishingly, the tune somehow morphed into Amazing Grace by the end. There was also a very uptempo rendition of Nature Boy, which involved pizzicato on the violin, a drum solo, and lyrics by Elling.

In all, it was an enjoyable concert, but slightly disappointing. Compared to her work on the “Freefall” album, Regina was sedated. The whole group seemed tired or somehow just not into it as much as they could have been. So the concert was a crowd-pleaser, but what do you expect for Tucson, AZ? I’m just grateful they were here at all.

1 comment:

  1. Kurt Elling has a 4-octave vocal range. I would hardly call that "limited." I would, however, characterize your knowledge of him and his abilities as a singer as being extremely so.