NEWPORT:JAZZ FESTIVAL - MUSIC FEAST

It is a universally accepted fact that Newport is the “Mother of all Jazz Festivals”. Apart from being perhaps the oldest organized Jazz festival; Newport from its inception has attracted and showcased the ultimate cream of the music. Newport festival-2013, staying true to its identity, presented jazz lovers with a musical feast ranging from the classical to the exotic. Starting with its location at the beautiful Fort Adams State Park,situated on a peninsula in the scenic Newport bay and continuing with the multiple stage, buffet style presentation of the music; the festival grabs you by the spirit and does not let go till the last note is played. The Newport Festivals Foundation along with its chief sponsor the Natixis Global Asset Management certainly delivered a gem of an event to celebrate the 49th.anniversity of this world famous Jazzfest. This year’s three day event was held on the weekend of August 2ndthorugh 4th and mother nature was most accommodating. The singer Natalie Cole with special guest Freddie Cole (talk about bloodlines), accompanied by super pianist Bill Charlap kicked- off the proceedings on Friday night, at the Tennis Hall of Fame in the Newport Casino. Maybe this concert was meant to serve as an appetizer to the big outdoor feasts of Saturday and Sunday. If so, this appetizer could easily have qualified as part of main course. Now; everybody outside!

The outdoor Newport Festival presents the jazz lover with a choice of three stages with overlapping and sometimes simultaneous performances: the Fort (main) Stage, the Quad Stage and the Harbor Stage. Saturday’s program started with the Rimea Senior all-state Jazz Band on the Harbor Stage and concluded with the Marcus Miller sextet on the Fort Stage. And it was the Fort (main) stage that commanded most of the day’s attention as the super pianist Michel Camilo and his band set the musical table. With the great and accomplished players, Ralph Bowen on sax; Michael Mossman on trumpet; Conrad Herwig on trombone; Lincoln Goines on bass and Cliff Almond on drums the sextet proceeded to infuse the crowd with swing laced energy. On tunes like “See you later”,”Caribe”and “Repercussions” the band showcased the arranging/writing skills of Mr.Camilo along with the awesome synergy prevailing among the musicians. The overcast skies prevailing at that time was going to be no match for this unfolding jazz onslaught because the next artist on stage was the jazzmaster and living legend Wayne Shorter. One of the main themes of Newport Festival-2013 was recognizing the greatness of this Jazz icon as he celebrates his 80thbirthday. Printed on the back of the tee shirt worn by the festival attendants is a quote from Wayne Shorter ,”Jazz means : do you dare?” Obviously, further proof of the high esteem in which this genius is held by the jazz world. For the opening of his set Mr.Shorter was joined on stage for a sustained duet, by fellow jazzmaster and genius of the keyboards, Herbie Hancock. So under grey skies in this nonetheless beautiful setting the duo dared their audience to join them on an astral journey.

Wayne Shorter is a prolific writer/arranger who does not conform to conventional musical restrictions. The dialogue between he and Hancock on the tunes “Zero gravity” and “Lotus” literally redefines the common concept of harmonics. Their phrasing and chord progressions require your undivided focus. Do you dare? Next, Mr.Shorter hooked up with the rest of his working quartet, Danilo Perez on piano; bassist John Panatucci and drummer Brian Blades all recognized masters of their instruments. Mr.Blades continues to make his thunderous impact on the jazz scene with his rythmnic syncopation, conjuring up images of the great Max Roach. As Shorter alternated between alto and soprano saxes the band delighted the jazz loving audience, taking us through the tunes, “Water babies”,”Through the fair”and “Orbits”. By the end of this set the skies began to clear, it had no choice. Esperanza Spaulding, the young female bassist whose star is currently shining bright, took over the main stage next. Ms. Spaulding, though steeped in the jazz genre is still very much loyal to the conventional music of her generation which she manages to incorporate into her presentations. On this Newport stage she unleashed her big band led by musical director, the distinguished female saxist, Tia Fuller; along with a compliment of two saxes, two trumpets, two trombones, drummer, keyboardist and singers. By then the sun was out in full shine and Esperanza turned the party out. Her versatility and mastery of the bass was put on display as she moved easily from electric to acoustic. Whether it was straight ahead or funk infused, Ms. Spaulding delivered with flair while engaging in conversation with the crowd in between tunes. Her playlist included,”Hold on to me”, “Can’t help it”, “Crowned and kissed” and the hip-hop tinged “Radio song” and “smile like it”. She brought love to the audience and they returned the love.

The premier bassist Marcus Miller closed out Saturday’s proceedings on the Fort stage. Mr. Miller has performed with many of the top jazz musicians so his resume is stellar. His Newport band included Adam Agate on guitar, Bret Williams on keyboards, Louis Cato on drums along with Sean James on trumpet and Alex Han on tenor. With a tight bright sound, Mr. Miller’s band dazzled through the tunes, “Detroit”, “Revelation”, with the bassist showcasing his virtuosity on “Jekyll and Hyde” and “Realization”. There can be no denying who graced the main stage on outdoor- day- one delivered the goods, big time.

Of course, what was perhaps the most impressive feature of Newport-2013, the availability of such an abundance of music, cannot be overstated. With a maximum of two hundred yards separating the three stages from each other; it was very easy for any music head, if so inclined, to move from one stage to the other in between tunes and maybe not miss a beat. So that while Camilo, Shorter, Spaulding and Miller were lighting up main stage; the musical talents of the Iraqi-American trumpeter and band leader Amir ElSaffar and his band Two Rivers, the avant- garde pianist Robert Glasper and his Experiment band, the mighty trumpeter and writer/composer Terrence Blanchard and the sensational singer/stylist Gregory Porter (easily the greatest jazz vocalist since Andy Bey), were all simultaneously delivering great performances on the Quad stage. While on the Harbor stage it was the trombonist Ray Anderson and his Pocket Brass Band; the increasingly acclaimed pianist Bill Charlap’s trio including saxists Bob Wilber and Anat Cohen; the Rez Abbasi trio and saxist/flutist Lew Tabackin’s quartet (Randy Brecker/trumpet, Peter Washington/bass, Lewis Nash/drums). This absolute feast of quality music was all available at Newport on Saturday. Sunday was still to come.One of the defining features of the Newport Jazz festival is that it exposes jazz lovers to a spectrum of the music which will not normally be available to most. It also provides emerging and innovative artists an opportunity to be heard by a large audience of hard core, knowledgeable jazz lovers. Despite the fact that the established stars and artists with greater name recognition get featured on the Fort(main) stage however, does not mean that the music presented on the other stages is of any lesser quality. In fact many seasoned Newport attendees will admit to discovering gems, from their visits to the other stages. Also, many of the artists appearing on the non-main stages are well established and recognized musicians with multiple recordings to their credit. In other words, making it to any stage at the Newport Jazz festival implies that an artist is bringing some quality product to the table.

Sunday at the Newport was bright and sunny; perfect weather. The Joshua Redman quartet was the first marquee name on the Fort (main) stage. Mr. Redman is a master of his instrument, the tenor sax. With his beautiful tone and intricate phrasing he has been evolving and fine tuning his style in his quest for excellence. He, most of all, comes closest to channeling the great tenor titans Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. His opening number was the very appropriately titled “Summertime” which also allowed for a full exposition of his band, with brilliant solos from pianist, Aaron Goldberg and drummer Gregory Hutchinson. Joshua Redman seems committed to exploring musical innovation and in that regard he is always refreshing to hear. Of course, it was no coincidence that one of the master innovators himself, Chick Corea, followed Redman’s band onto the main stage. Jazz lovers globally, nod their heads in collective approval at the mention of Mr.Corea and his music. As a master of the keyboards he has this ability to infuse his very special innovative rythmns into every player in his band. Invariably he attracts the best musicians to his band and together they perfectly deliver his beautifully written and arranged masterpieces.The Newport crowd loved it.Eddie Palmieri, another keyboard monster, and his Salsa band came onto the main stage and proceeded to transform a groovy , mellow audience into a hip shaking party crowd. Eddie, who is popularly referred to as the “Sun of Latin music”, let it all hang out under brilliantly sunny skies. With an orchestra comprising, two trumpets, two trombones and three saxes along with multiple percussions and singers Palmieri, a recently acclaimed Jazzmaster, delivered that delicious salsa spice and it was oh so nice.Eddie yielded the stage to yet another living legend, Mr.Paquito D’Rivera leading the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. D’Rivera, a master instrumentalist (saxophones) and composer also displayed his great ability as a communicator, taking the audience back in time to his years of playing with the master Dizzy Gillespie and the wonderful times together. That mighty orchestra had the crowd swinging with compositions from the two masters. A dazzling arrangement of Dizzy’s signature masterpiece “Night in Tunisia” brought Sunday’s mainstage to a finale.

Newport 2013 was absolutely musical heaven and the musical angels from Roy Haynes to Hiromi and from Steve Coleman to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band all showered us with abundant jazz blessings. Thank you. Thank you.


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