As Sunday's lineup at Newport was even more stacked than Saturday, the temporal conflicts of the festival became all-too-clear. I was faced with a hard triple booking: Maria Schneider Orchestra, Miguel Zenon’s Rayuela and Jason Moran’s Bandwagon. With the logic that MSO is difficult to put together and Rayuela was the newest, I had to sadly forego what was surely a riveting performance from Moran. Happily though, there was much else to thoroughly enjoy.
Lewis Nash's quintet kicked off the Quad stage acts with a true Blue Note sound, one that's easily recognizable but seriously difficult to imitate. This was due in part to Nash, bassist Peter Washington and pianist Donald Vega's intimate and stylish trio hook up and also thanks to the dark-tinged and soulful hard bop bents of trumpeter Jeremy Pelt and tenor/soprano saxophonist Jimmy Greene. All solos were both confident and subtle (Pelt's note bending and Greene's precise soprano tone didn't hurt either), but Nash's solo on Washington's walking bass in particular showed off the band's unshakable foundation.
In a completely different musical realm, the Harbor stage had Jenny Scheinman playing fiddle reels dedicated to her daughter, the earthy violin sound accompanied by the multiplicitious guitar tones of Bill Frisell. The duo edged their way in and out of Americana and contrapunctal bebop, both in tandem and in a gentle ricochet. They often worked as equal units, but more often, Scheinman acted the part of soloist with Frisell playing mutli-layered elements of tonal change.
Samdhi, led by saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, provided a hyper-precise groove and melody execution amidst manic freedom amongst the individuals. Mahanthappa's rhythms, evocative of modern jazz and Indian music, could be mathematical at times, but also spent a lot of its time in an aggressive pocket. Drummer Rudy Royston and bassist Rich Brown were particularly telepathic in their navigation of Mahanthappa's compositions and whereas the alto saxophonist's lines where tightly controlled, the overdriven, looped fuzz of David Gilmore's guitar was mutlicolored and wildly free.
With respect to Yuval and Avishai Cohen, who have staked their reputations as a soprano saxophone specialist and in-demand trumpeter, respectively, top honor of the Three Cohens’ performance has to go to the dark horse of the whole festival: sister Anat Cohen. Not a day after she lovingly tore apart her extremely talented bandmates Evan Christopher and Ken Peplowski in a three-clarinet exhibition, she held her own with her brothers on tenor saxophone with low-register howls reminiscent of Michael Brecker or Joe Henderson.
Previously employed by the previous festival acts as just a guitarist, Lionel Loueke shelled out his amazing skills as a rhythmic voice artist along with Becca Stevens and Gretchen Parlato on voice, charango and guitar. Loueke and Parlato swirled vocal and instrumental textures on her arrangment of Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It” before Stevens joined them for a last few numbers, which blended crystalline harmony and African rhythms.
Miguel Zenon’s Rayuela quartet used its intriguing instrumentation to a dramatic advantage. Supported in oblique harmony by pianist Laurent Coq and rhythmic carried and earmarked by drummer/tablaist Dan Weiss, Zenon’s alto sax and Dana Leong’s cello used their capabilities as improvisers and technicians to drive Zenon’s interludes in melodies and back again. The whole effect was ambiguous in regards to contribution; given the wide-open freedom of a bass-less group, there was never a moment when it was 100% clear who was playing at a given time.
Maria Schneider Orchestra has little worry, at this point, to prove itself as a performer of widely creative music – Schneider’s selections from all over her repertoire showcased that. The big reminder was how breathtakingly accomplished her soloists have become at playing her music. Steve Wilson departed himself from the Jackie McLean-type modalities of the previous day’s performance into a sonically twisted and angular mode. Ingrid Jensen displayed her fluttering and occasionally displaced brand of musical storytelling over “The Nightwatchmen”’s slow, sly swing and tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin and accordionist Gary Versace enveloped themselves in the musical buoyancies of “Hang Gliding” before emerging like escaped birds. Until next year.