Here’s a selection of photos from Sunday’s shows at the 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, September 23, 2012. Artists include Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir, the Mads Tolling Quartet, Mo’Fone, the John Abercrombie Trio, Meklit Hadero, Tigran Hamasyan, and 90 Miles.
The 55th annual Monterey Jazz Festival is receding into memory now, but this was one of those years that will be fondly recalled. The programming was diverse and of consistently high quality, the weather was excellent if a bit chilly, and the proceedings came off with barely a hitch.
But the most striking aspect was this year’s abundance of younger talent. The jazz mainstream spends a lot of time lionizing the past and fretting about the future, but this year’s festival felt like a passing of the torch — or perhaps more accurately, an embracing of today’s young artists as the continuation of the jazz tradition. Ambrose Akinmusire (age 30) was this year’s artist-in-residence and has a place in the Festival’s touring ensemble. Christian Scott (29), Gerald Clayton (28), Mads Tolling (32), José James (34) and Tigran Hamasyan (25) packed them in across the grounds, while Esperanza Spalding starred on the big Jimmy Lyons arena stage at 27. The student ensembles featured on Sunday afternoon were particularly sharp this year, and nobody will be surprised if a few of those players wind up back at Monterey leading their own groups in a few years.
Here are the memories I’ll take with me:
Sunday, 10:00 PM – Dizzy’s Den
The 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival has saved the best for last.
Closing out Sunday night’s program on the stage known as Dizzy’s Den, Nicholas Payton, David Sánchez and their 90 Miles band are tearing the roof off the place with a long, thrilling set. The name refers to the distance from Florida to Cuba, and the bridge they forge across that gap is strong, broad, and burning with intensity.
Normally, this group has three leaders — vibraphonist Stefon Harris has had to cancel to attend the birth of his son. But even missing one of its core members, this is a sextet with serious juice.
Sunday, 8:30 PM – Coffee House Gallery
The Coffee House Gallery is the smallest and most obscure of the five main stages at the Monterey Jazz Festival. It’s tucked into an easily-missed little building just off the midway, in between the Arena and the Garden Stage. Even the entrance is hard to find: you don’t enter through the front door; that leads to a women’s restroom. Instead the audience must follow a ramp leading off the far side and pass through an odd vestibule. Once they find their way in, however, visitors to the Coffee House Gallery can usually hear some of the Festival’s most surprising and innovative sounds on this tiny pressure cooker of a stage.
It’s a perfect setting for Tigran Hamasyan, a 25-year-old pianist from Armenia whose four albums — all released on French labels — have slipped largely under the radar in this country. At Monterey he is presenting a brand-new trio: it’s their very first gig as a working unit, and for his first of two sets Hamasyan has chosen to rearrange several pieces that were originally piano solos.
Here are a few more photos from Saturday’s shows at the 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, September 22, 2012. Artists include Antonio Sanchez & Migration, Gerald Clayton, and the “Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour” band.
Sunday, 7:00 PM – Night Club Stage
Kicking off a triple-bill of Hammond B3 organ sets at the Night Club stage, guitarist John Abercrombie is offering up a cool, modernized version of a classic sound. The organ trio is a combo that might be more closely associated with greasy blues and soul-jazz than Abercrombie’s calm, fusion-derived approach, but he’s no stranger to the format: some of Abercrombie’s earliest gigs in the 1960s were with B3 master Johnny “Hammond” Smith, and he’s revisited the organ-guitar intersection several times since.
As the set begins, it looks like Abercrombie might be washed out by organist Gary Versace, who swamps the leader’s hushed intro to “Gone with the Wind” in a wave of droning chords. But the trio soon settles into a brisk, snappy groove. Abercrombie’s solo lines curve nicely around Versace’s hard stroll while Adam Nussbaum, a longtime veteran of Abercrombie’s organ projects, pushes them both from his drum kit.
Sunday, 4:00 PM – Garden Stage
The circle of jazz violinists is a relatively small one. The list of top jazz musicians from Denmark is equally brief. But Mads Tolling is that rare bird who belongs to both groups, and his set at the Monterey Jazz Festival is a salute both to the masters of his instrument and to the heritage of his homeland.
This is a versatile group. The set opens with “Danish Dessert,” a lilting, lyrical breeze that seems to dance around the Garden Stage. But a few minutes later Tolling is channeling Jean-Luc Ponty with a rocking, thoroughly electrified version of “Lila’s Dance.” Running his violin through electronic effects, Tolling churns through massive chords and quicksilver solo lines, setting up a hot, nasty blues-guitar grind from Michael Abraham over Eric Garland’s forceful drumming and the quick-jabbing bass of George Ban-Weiss.
Sunday, 2:30 PM — Garden Stage
They’re getting right down to the roots at the Garden Stage as the 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival swings through its final day. Five figures, four of them women, all of them smiling, are seated in an arc across the stage. They hold African drums and shakers, but it’s the power of their combined voices that really shines.
Spirituals, line chants, Pentecostal shouts, civil rights anthems, plantation songs, James Brown funk. Linda Tillery and her Cultural Heritage Choir bring all these and more. The quintet trades off lead vocals with each song, but everybody pitches in through percussion, handclaps, vocal bass lines, scatting, dance, or even straight-up yells of encouragement. It’s thrilling and infectious, and a sage reminder of where all that jazz really came from.
Here’s a selection of photos from Saturday’s shows at the 55th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, September 22, 2012. Artists include Robert Randolph and the Family Band, the Aram Shelton Quartet, Mingo Fishtrap, Christian Scott, and Catherine Russell.
Saturday, 11:15 PM — Coffee House Gallery
It’s getting late, and pianist Gerald Clayton is in his third and final set of the evening. But the Coffee House Gallery is packed, and the audience is giving Clayton’s trio their undivided attention.
They make a striking impression, this young group. They’re fashionably dressed: Clayton wears a vest and drummer Marcus Gilmore sports a bow tie. Clayton and bassist Joe Sanders are both dreadlocked: Clayton’s sticking out from the back of his head in an unruly tangle, Sanders’s falling forward to hide his face as he leans in for a solo. But it’s their music that stands out the most.