Some Of It Needs More Cowbell
After being here for a while, I had still not attended any of the concerts put up by the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival until last Thursday. And frankly, part of me thinks that if I had never attended the Jazz Festival, I probably wouldn’t have missed much anyway. While jazz isn’t my most hated musical genre (Rap! Arrrg! Does it even deserve the descriptor of “musical”?), it isn’t my favorite either. I tend to think of it as sleepy elevator music or annoying supermarket muzak. So to say I was entering the concerts with some skepticism is putting it lightly.
The first group up was Chico Pinheiro and Anthony Wilson. I wasn’t impressed by the first two selections from their Nova album, but it did get better as they warmed up. I particularly liked “Laranjeiras”–melodic and easy going, making me think of pastel colored houses along the beach. And “Easter Monday” was particularly impressive for its bass solo. Next was Kenny Barron with pieces from his Canta Brasil album. While I found Barron’s piano work and Romero Lubambo’s guitar passages intriguing, I felt unmoved by the addition of the flute (Anne Drummond). The director of the festival, John Clayton, remarked that he found that adding the flute to a jazz ensemble created some interesting colors, and I’ve overheard other audience members say that they thought the girl playing the flute was awesome. Me, I thought it lent a new-agey/hippy tone with strong hints of the soporific.
The final act was Monty Alexander. Can you say “instant fangirl” three times fast? Previous mediocrity completely forgotten after the first couple bars of the first song. This guy–he was worth the admission price alone. You may think that classical, jazz, and laid back Caribbean beats would mix as well as oil and water, but he makes all of this work spectacularly. And his humorous, upbeat stage presence just made everything so fun. I think I’m going to try to collect all his records now.
Friday’s concert was a tribute to Ray Brown who was also John Clayton’s mentor. It began with some trio work with Clayton on bass. While interesting, I preferred the bass duet which definitely had some classical influences. The main part of the concert was sung by Bobby McFerrin. I was really, really, impressed–although compared to the audience around me, maybe I was catatonic. Cause when he did some throat singing with “Drive”, the people around me totally went orgasmic with gasps of ohmygodohmygodohmygod. There was also McFerrin, Monty Alexander (yay!), and Clayton doing some inspired improvisational noodling together. And McFerrin doing The Wizard of Oz in probably five minutes–oh man, that was some trippy, whacked out stuff. I almost fell out of my seat from laughing so hard.
Overall, I would count this as a positive experience. As someone who is not a fan of jazz, I found at least one artist to glom. For people who are jazz fans, I’d imagine that this festival would be total heaven. Now, if only this wasn’t the only incentive to get people to come out to the middle of nowhere…