Review: 2011 Atlanta Jazz Fest – Day 1 (5/28/11)

The 34th Atlanta jazz Festival took place Memorial Day Weekend.  This was my first time attending this sprawling event, which is free on the first two days in midtown’s Piedmont Park and concludes with a ticketed event on Memorial Day.

Saturday

The festival began at 1:00 with performances by a couple of Atlanta area youth jazz groups.  We arrived at around 4:30, in time for the first of the evening performances by vocalist Audrey Shakir.  Ms. Shakir is a veteran of the New York jazz scene as well and she brought strong reinforcements, in her solid backing quintet which included former Wynton Marsalis alto saxophonist Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson and Atlanta’s own Melvin Jones on trumpet. I had not heard of Mr. Jones before last Saturday afternoon, but he made an immediate impression, with his powerful tone and creative soloing.  (I was tweeting frantically, trying to learn his identity, before he was finally introduced.)  Ms. Shakir is a fine vocalist and a nimble scat singer, who deserves much wider recognition. Unfortunately, the 90 plus degree heat got the better of her and she had to cut her set short. Jones, Anderson and the rhythm section didn’t skip a beat and they finished in high style.

And here’s my son, John, with a kid’s perspective on the first set of the day

Next up was the Warren Wolf Quintet, with the outstanding bassist Christian Mc Bride as guest artist.  I am a great admirer of Mr. McBride’s body of work and I’ve also enjoyed what I’ve heard from Mr. Wolf on vibes; as a member of McBride’s 2009 Inside Straight band and on drummer Willie Jones III’s 2010 release The Next Phase.  So needless to say I looked forward to their set with a great deal of anticipation. Unfortunately, it was my biggest disappointment of the festival.  Their set was decidedly in the contemporary/smooth jazz vein, which was not a problem, as gifted cats such as these have the ability to give “smooth jazz” a good name.  What left me scratching my head is how uninspired their playing was, except for the Latin-tinged opening number and the hard-driving funk of the set closer. They also brought on a young female singer, whose name escapes me; which is for the best.  Her ponderous vocals on four tracks; brought the proceedings to a virtual standstill.

Warren and Christian, I still have much respect and admiration for both of you, but this was not your finest hour.

As night fell, the highlight of the first day came with the appearance of violinist Regina Carter and the eclectically delightful group that appeared with her on her latest album Reverse Thread.  From the moment they hit the stage, playing the opening notes of “Artistiya”, until the last note of their last song was lost in the cheering, they had captivated the large, diverse crowd.  Ms. Carter, kora (West African harp) player Yacouba Sissoko; accordionist Gary Versace; percussionist Alvester Garnett and the rest of the sextet were locked in a polyrhythmic groove that would not let us go.  As I breathlessly tweeted during their set; “If there is a better jazz violinist than Regina Carter alive today, then I haven’t heard him/her yet”. I stand by my every word.  It is not hyperbole. Ms. Carter is a singular artist; Reverse Thread is a singular group and concept. It takes a lot to bring an audience lounging on lawn chairs and blankets to their feet, but damned if they didn’t do it. It was a great way to end the evening and everyone went home happy.

In the next post, we will talk about Day Two of the AJF, which featured trumpeter Sean Jones, pianist Gerald Clayton and the super group Ninety Miles, with Stefon Harris, David Sanchez and Christian Scott.

2 Responses to “Review: 2011 Atlanta Jazz Fest – Day 1 (5/28/11)”

  1. watch out, Curt, your son seems like a “natural” – loved the short vids

  2. jazz blues…

    […]Review: 2011 Atlanta Jazz Fest – Day 1 (5/28/11) « Curt's Jazz Cafe[…]…

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