by Dan Lehner
All photos: Adam Kissick, NPR Music
NEWPORT, RI — This year's Newport Jazz Festival continued the trend of jazz legends communicating with younger musicians during Sunday's lineup. The Jim Hall Quartet with Julian Lage (two guitarists 57 years apart) thoughtfully skated their way through standards, creating moments of intrigue. Hall and Lage are quite different; Hall prefers sparse, by-the-books comping and rootsy solos, whereas Lage likes highly colorized chords and long, even-tempered solo lines. The quartet made it work, though, playing through tunes like “All The Things You Are” and “St. Thomas.”
Chick Corea and The Vigil was decidedly more verbose. Corea—like Shorter and Hall—is a musician who likes to react with his band rather than trump them. Many of his solos evolved into duo soloing or trading, whether it was a Moog-powered jaunt creating lines alongside Christian McBride's electric bass, or making concise little constructions on piano in tandem with Charles Altura's spidery, leaping electric guitar lines. Latin music still factored into Corea’s music in a big way; alongside the melodic and rhythmic cycles and jazz harmony, the big, multitiered 12/8-time feel of Afro-Cuban music made its presence known.
However, there was no better place to hear Latin music than one of the sources, Eddie Palmieri's Salsa Orchestra. Palmieri’s group is aptly named: though there was plenty of dissonant "Thelonious Monkness" and generous exposition from Palmieri’s deft piano playing, the group still kept mostly to a hardcore New York salsa sound, blending in all the necessary ingredients (cha-cha, guaguanco, mambo, etc.) needed to make it work. Palmeri’s classic tunes like “Muneca” got a bit of pan-South American flavor with the trés playing of Nelson Gonzalez, but classics like “Pa Huele” were treating with perfectly executed solos from luminaries like trombonist Jimmy Bosch.
The slightly younger artists had tremendous amounts to say also. The iconic and iconoclastic Steve Coleman wasted no creative energy putting together a collaboration between the Talea Chamber Ensemble and his cohorts, including drummer Dafnis Prieto and Jonathan Finlayson. The thoroughly Coleman-esque string and horn parts (cyclical melodies in a looping, irregular rhythms) were like a 21st-century update to “Bird With Strings,” providing a textural lush and rhythmically moving foundation for each soloist to improvise over.
Joshua Redman and James Farm, Newport 2011
Saxophonist Joshua Redman's quartet was a bit more by the book, but, like Coleman, exceeded at what they’re best known to do. Amongst all the modernistic contrapuntal soloing from pianist Aaron Goldberg and the pulsating, start/stop ostinatos of bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson, the quartet still had lots to say in the traditions of the idiom. At his most controlled, Redman’s soloing is reminiscent of early-to-mid Sonny Rollins, and at one moment Goldberg broke out of his complex left-hand/right-hand structures for some of the hardest swinging block chords of the whole festival.
David Gilmore’s Numerology charged through an entire suite of controlled but flexible formations. The guitarist’s suite connected each moment by latching rhythms and melodies, the pointillistic groove sometimes getting flipped into fast funk/hip-hop by the masterful hand of drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. Gilmore’s solo sections gave plenty of room to stretch out as well, with the guitarist working his way through triplet clusters and solo wails, in addition to giving saxophonist Miguel Zénon the chance to get into the funk as much as possible without losing his signature sound.
The younger group made their indelible mark on Sunday as well. Pianist Jonathan Batiste and Stay Human ran contrary to the trope that young musicians make cold and overly complicated music. From the Art Tatum/Fats Waller-esque variations on "The Star Spangled Banner" to the funeral-dirge-meets-pop-band rendition of "Killing Me Softly," Batiste's music was just fun to behold. Batiste had chops to spare on the piano, but contributed with melodica and a singing style remarkably culled from the Nat King Cole school.
Photo credit: Greenleaf
Another group of relatively younger musicians, The Donny McCaslin Group, left the audience a clue about he future of fusion music—one that made the necessary leap forward to embrace both drum and bass and electronic rock. Most of the sonic power came from pianist/keys/electronics player Jason Lindner, who plunged most of the compositions in synthy space tones, non-tonal echoes, and even a little bit of dub reggae piano for good measure.
Bassist Tim Lefebvre and drummer Nate Wood adroitly handled McCaslin’s music, with Lefebvre keeping a firm center for Wood’s jungle-beats-by-way-of-Max Roach sound. McCaslin, for all the chops most of the audience probably knew he had, often eschewed hectic complexity for simple, passionate phrases and the occasional slowly constructed line, proving that for this group and indeed much of the current generation and for the acts at this festival, there’s a deep interest in making music in all of its various forms.