Monday, September 19, 2005

Monterey Jazz Festival Part III

Well, I'm back from another MJF, and again it was a great show. I wasn't there Saturday so I won't comment on those shows, though I heard good things about all the performers that day. Here's a quick rundown of what I saw and heard Sunday

I started things Sunday with Bay Area vocalist Natasha Miller, at 2:00pm Sunday at the Garden Stage. The performance was much like Natasha's cd, a tribute to the music of Bobby Sharp. Nice tunes, decent voice, but just not quite ready for prime time. I stayed for a couple of tunes, but it just wasn't doing it for me, I think it's harder to be a good jazz singer than it is to be a good jazz instrumentalist. "A" for effort as they say, but a "C" for performance.

I was then left debating what to do. Leave the festival, go eat some more (already had an excellent Naan Burrito), or hear some music. Lee Ritenour was on the main stage, at truth be told, that sounded about as enticing on paper as sitting in the barbeque line for an hour, but I put aside my jazz snob leanings and went to check things out. The band was Ritenour, Ernie Watts, saxophone, BOTH Dave Grusin and Patrice Rushen piano/keyboards, Brian Bromberg bass, and Alex Acuna drums. They opened things up playing a track from Lee Morgan's album "The Procrastinator" (I think it was Lee's tune Party Time, but I could be wrong) - and it was REALLY good. No smooth jazz BS at all. Rushen sounded especially good on piano, though sometimes it got a little busy with both her and Grusin playing. Ritenour showed his heavy Wes Montgomery influence, and it was a nice track. They played some more music, some more on the contemporary jazz side, some more funk, some more straight ahead stuff, and one of my favorite Jobim tunes, Stone Flower. It was perhaps the most surprising set of the festival for me, in a pleasant way. Two notes - Alex Acuna stole the show and turned in a very memorable perfomance on the traditional Peruvian instrument the cajon, not to mention his excellent work at the trap drums. The other note deals with bassist Brian Bromberg. I said when hearing Bob Cranshaw that he plays the electric bass like it was an acoustic bass. Brian does the opposite, plays the acoustic like the electric - he's a "virtuoso" in the worst way. It's almost annoying at points, especially on electric. I almost found myself saying "ok, you're good, get over yourself already!" But different strokes for different folks. Overall, I liked the whole set, though I'd prefer just hearing Patrice rather than Dave AND Patrice. I promise I won't talk trash about Lee ANY more! "A-" for this set, with the minus being Bromberg.

After that I caught a little bit of vocalist Clairdee on the Garden Stage. Much better than Natasha Miller, a much better stage presence, just more "seasoned". I have the CD in the rotation at the station, but I haven't played it yet. I'll try to give it some spins and see what people think. Not bad, but not knock out great. Good band backing her up of Bay Area musicians. I'd give it a "B"

After Clairdee it was Jon Jang's ensemble with Wayne Wallace and Francis Wong. I only caught portions of this, but I liked most of it. Mix traditional Asian music, with Blue Note era hard bop and bit of avant garde free blowing for some spice and that's what you've got. Francis has the most passionate tenor tone this side of Gato Barbieri. I liked the mix of approaches and influences, and I actually expected it to be much more "out there" than it was. Good edgy stuff, but grounded, which is pretty rare. "B"

After that, and a dinner of fried catfish and hush puppies, it was back to the Jimmy Lyons stage in the Arena, for Branford Marsalis' quartet, with Joey Calderazzo, piano, Eric Revis, bass and Jeff Tain Watts drums. I've seen Branford several times now, and he sounded (to my ears) somewhat uninspired. Tain, Eric and Joey were great though. Branford sometimes sounds a bit obtuse to my ears, and I think he sometimes just relies on his "sheets of sound" burnout approach when nothing else comes to mind - it's his crutch, or at least it sounds like that. They opened with the Watts tune Mr. JJ. Branford made a comment that they hadn't played together in four months, and would be trying out new material - (he made a similar comment when I saw them in 1998 at Yoshis with Kenny Kirkland) and again, Branford seemed kinda dull. It just doesn't hit me, but perhaps that's just the bias of the listener. I prefer his soprano playing quite a bit more, and he played a nice and as yet untitled original on the smaller horn, in the vein of his recent album Eternal. Good stuff. He followed with a version of Wynton's "Free to Be" (saying he asked Wynton for the chart because he knew his band could play the song better than Wynton's could!) also on soprano. At this point I had to leave to catch some other music. I'd give Branford's set a "B" overall.

After that it was off to see vocal sensation (and tabloid queen) Madeline Peyroux. I've never seen Norah Jones live, but I am told that people say she's extremely boring. Well, so was Madeline. I'm not sure if it's due to a lackluster performance, or simply that material like this is best heard in a cafe, or on cd, and not before 1,000 people outdoors. It was a bore, though it showed flashes of excellence. Larry Goldings was great on B-3, and Ron Miles added a nice dimension (the festival didn't have much trumpet this year). "C+" - I like her cd, but would fall asleep with her one dimensional performance.

After that I went to catch Denny Zeitlin's trio with Buster Williams and Matt Wilson. Excellent. But of course, you'd expect nothing less. Denny might be the most intelligent guy I've ever talked to, and it comes out in his music. He's another example of a virtuoso who "gets it" that it's not just about showing off, but rather it's about artistry. Matt Wilson is simply great. "A+"

Following Denny, it was off to the Night Club stage (I skipped Kyle Eastwood - for shame!) and caught three tunes from John Scofield's trio with Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow. Wow, those guys are really good. Sco isn't my favorite guitar player, but I have nothing but good things to say about their set. Swallow plays the bass guitar like a bass when it comes to holding down the rhythm section, and like a guitar when it comes to solo, a perfect balance from what say a traditional approach would be and what Bromberg does. But of course that's why Steve is a living legend on his instrument. Bill Stewart and Matt Wilson (still playing with Zeitlin) could both go for the "most tasteful" drummer award, and both deserve it. Sco was excellent, I forget the first tune, but they followed it with "Green Tea" (from the A Go Go album) and a nice ballad version of "You Don't Know Me". Sco sounds so much better than on his overproduced Ray Charles tribute cd. Good stuff. "A"

I would have liked to have stayed for more music, but it was close to 10:00pm and I had to drive home, so I only got to hear Pat Metheny's trio/quartet set walking to my car, but thanks to KUSP, I was able to hear it all the way home via their live festival broadcast. Pat was Pat, you know what you're going to get there, but I like his current trio with Christian McBride and Antionio Sanchez better than the one he had with Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade. (two excellent musicians in their own right). But the real surprise as I was driving home was David Sanchez. I've heard him a couple of time, and he sounded so much more mature and toughtful than I've heard before in person or on record. He works well with Pat's group, his tone seems to have matured, and his ideas as well, in an almost Joe Henderson sort of way.

One side note: while I didn't hear Pat live, I actually did SEE him! He was leaving the soundcheck at about 5:00pm or so, and gosh I wish I had my camera with me! He looked like Tom Hanks in that castaway movie! Either that or he had been digging for clams out on the beach. Pants that came up mid way on the shins, a sloppy t-shirt, baseball cap and hair going out every which way underneath! No surprise than that about an hour later ushers were seen giving the photographers present notes saying that no photos were to be taken backstage during Pat's set!

Everything considered, it was a good festival, not the best ever, but better than last year, which seemed to be lacking something. Sonny was the highlight for me, but there was plenty of good music, and lots that I didn't get to see. Because of that - here's some links to other MJF related blogs...

Jazz (2nd day review)
Doug Ramsey - Rifftides...
Fojazz (various posts)...


Blogger wen mew said...

joe,thanks for the mjf
review. you have great ears, and i've never even me you.

good to hear jon jang is still smoking he was my roomate before he got married, and i moved to santa monica.

also i like your reviews of vocalists; so i wait to hear what you think of my partner JODY MORTARA, and my blog at


6:28 AM  
Blogger Stuart said...

Thanks for the MJF reviews Joe. I wrote one myself. It is interesting that there is so much music that all the reviews overlap in very few places.

1:30 AM  

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