For those of us who did not get to Newport to see the jazz festival, the new CD from ArtistShare at least provides a snapshot of some of the participants as they performed in some unusual combinations at the Newport Festival Foundation Gala on August 4, 2012. The CD is called simply "Newport Jazz Gala" (ArtistShare 2013) and it inlcudes nine entries by a host of musicians. These are not from the sets played for the public, some of which you can hear via NPR, but rather a unique portrait of jazz covering a wide range of sounds, instruments, and groups in a single setting. A brief walk-through of the songs and players should be sufficient to intrigue most readers of this post.
First up is Dianne Reeves singing "I'm in Love Again", accompanied on the piano by Peter Martin, a nice standard way to start the set. The sound quickly turns more improvisational with "Three's Free", a freely imporvised piece played by Anat Cohen on clarinet, Ingrid Jensen on trumpet, and Jason Moran on piano. To start, Jensen introduces a phrase, then Cohen picks it up, followed by Moran. Then the trio begins to elaboraate upon the phrase, offering in turn solo riffs, and finally all three join in once the theme is fully established. A remarkably spry and lovely piece highlighted by the beautiful rich sounds from each master, but for my ears particulalry by Cohen playing across all three octaves of the clarinet.
Third up is "Aurora" a piece both written by and played by Rudresh Mahanthappa that is very much in keeping with the sound of the recently released "Gamak" (ACT 2013). His support is not identified but there are some traditional Indian percussion parts supporting him along with some electronic feedback and echoing. all in all a very modern and avant garde piece. "Merci" is next, a duet of Lionel Loueke and Jason Moran that is lively and fun. Loueke begins with any number of vocalizations including hums, clicks, and pos along side his guitar work. Moran enters as support a bit later first compling and then playing a melody line in support of the rhythmic play from Loueke and then taking over the melody while Loueke "plays" the percussion for the better part of three minutes. Finally, Loueke sings his part in his native language backed quietly by his guitar and Moran's piano. Lovely.
Lewis Nash on drums and Steve Wilson on sax cut it up with the "Jitterbug Waltz" next, followed by Edmar Castaneda playing two of his own compositions -- first soloing on "Entre Cuerdas" and then dueting with sax player Wilson on "Double Portion". Castaneda is probably the least known player on this CD; he is a 35 year old harp player from Bogota, Colombia now located in New York. His most recent CD has him leading a group which includes Gonzolo Rubalcaba on piano, Miguel Zenon on saxophone, and Hamilton De Holanda on mandolin. He plays what might be expected from the harp -- lush, long flowing melody lines and strong melodies that shift across the octaves to create intriguing expressive pieces. These are really outstanding contibutions to the CD from a wholly unexpected source, whether playing solo or comping behind a very interesting melody played by Wilson on the second piece.
Finally two last pieces. The first is just a great interpretation of the Beatles' "Come Together" by Anat Cohen on clarinet and Bill Frisell on guitar. Frisell of course did a complete CD a couple of years ago featuring John Lennon's music and this has the same combination of the familiar and the unexpected, with Cohen once again starring on the clarinet. So simple, so fun. Finally, there is the ensemble of Frisell, Jensen, Moran, Nash, and Wilson playing, or in fact playing around with, "Blue Monk" a suitable closer to what must have been a great night.