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Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 2 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2012 by curtjazz

DAY 2 – Sunday, 5/27

The Sunday of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest had  a decidedly international flavor with artists from different parts of the world showing us a mixture of jazz and their homeland musical styles. It was another great day of music, but for me, it was almost eclipsed by what I heard when I ventured away from the Mainstage for the first time.

The day got off to a frustrating start, as the APD, which otherwise did an outstanding job of traffic control throughout the weekend, closed off access to the street that I had used to access parking every day since I first came to the AJF last year.  This was doubly frustrating because this rerouting caused us to miss the performance of Hatian Jazzman Mushy Widmaier

Determined not to let this blip ruin the day, we settled in and prepared for the performance of Gregoire Maret, the Swiss harmonica master who has been making quite a name for himself of late.  Mr. Maret is an excellent musician and he delivered a solid set; though at times some of the “quiet storm” style grooves that he laid down seemed more suited to late night at an intimate club, rather than a sweltering sunny Sunday afternoon in the park. When he tackled uptempo tunes, he did so with a stunning virtuosity that excited the growing crowd on the lawn.

Gregoire Maret performs at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

I have to confess that I saw the beginning and the end of Mr. Maret’s performance. In the middle, I took a harrowing ride on a golf cart to the other side of Piedmont Park; where I paid my first visit to the festival’s smaller venue, the International Stage.  This stage drew a more intimate crowd, that was all about the music.  The distractions of the large tents and people “stylin’ and profilin'” as they make their way around, interested more in calling attention to themselves than in hearing jazz; are vitrually non-existent at the International Stage.  What you do get, are world-class musicians, just with less recognizable names.

When I arrived, I was treated to the Son Jazzy Orchestra a Latin Jazz group, based in the Atlanta area.  They commanded the stage with a fire that gave me goosebumps. I immediately whipped out my Flip camera and recorded the clip of their performance of “Night in Tunisia” that you see below. Please excuse my shoddy camerawork, as I was in motion during most of the performance.  I also was interrupted in the middle by an attempt to arrange a ride back to the other side of the park, thus the inopportune break about 6 minutes into the film. I did return to catch the remainder of the performance.  Other than the group’s leader, Nelson Ramos, I don’t know the names of the rest of the group and their web page didn’t provide much more info. As I do find out though, I will update this post.

If I hadn’t left my family on the other side of the park, I would have likely remained at the second stage for a few hours longer, but sadly, I had to leave the International Stage and the Son Jazzy Orchestra after that one tune. But there were two more great artists awaiting when I returned to the Mainstage.

Lionel Loueke at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

West African guitarist Lionel Loueke and his trio were next on the Mainstage. Many in the audience knew Mr. Loueke from his work with Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancock,  in additional to his two critically acclaimed albums for Blue Note. He captivated the crowd right off the bat with a beautiful sonic mélange that turned into “Skylark”.  Mr. Loueke’s set consisted mostly of tunes that started with a beautiful theme, highlighted by his vocalizing. Then as soon as the audience was lured into a place of serenity, Mr. Loueke reminded us to not get too comfortable, as the music would veer off into jazz-rock themes that were often dissonant.  From the looks on the faces of many in the crowd, many of the roads that the Loueke trio took were a bit confusing; but he would always return us home safely.

Tito Puente Jr. shows off his tattoo of his legendary father, prior to his set at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

The evening closed with a set from Tito Puente, Jr., who has now decidedly stepped  into his late father’s shoes as “The Mambo King”. He is also every bit the gregarious and gracious showman that his dad was; arriving early to spend a bit of time with us press types and staying late to patiently sign autographs and listen to reminiscences from those in the audience affected by his father’s music.

Tito Puente Jr. during his performance of “Manteca” at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival

Puente, Jr’s band was hot and road tested, as they cranked out the classics from the Latin Jazz canon, “Tanga”, “Manteca”, “Ran Kan Kan” and many others. Tito, Jr. also told many heartwarming and humourous stories about himself, his dad and the music that made them famous.  He also slipped in a few numbers from his own song book, such as the fiery “Junior’s Mambo”, which Tito, Jr. composed for his three-year old son, whom he referred to as “Tito Junior, Junior”.  Though there was no official dance floor impromptu ones sprang up all over the packed lawn, as people grooved in whatever way they knew how, to the infectious rhythms.

If you ever saw Tito Puente, Sr. perform, this facial expression is very familiar

Just when you thought they were finished, Tito told a story about a song that his father composed in the late ’60’s that was then made famous by a 19-year-old guitarist named Carlos Santana.  The pianist then hit that familiar syncopated block of chords and a near-riot broke out… With a big grin, Junior then held out the mike to the crowd, saying “I know y’all know it…sing it!” And thousands who had never spoken a word of Spanish in their lives, were now singing “Oye Como Va” at the top of their lungs.

It was a great end to a great second day. The best news was that there was still more to come on Monday on both stages.

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Atlanta Jazz Fest 2012 – Day 1 Recap

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , on June 3, 2012 by curtjazz

The 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest couldn’t help but exceed its immediate predecessor, based on volume alone. This year’s festival featured three full days of free jazz in Piedmont Park, whereas 2011 had only two.  Four acts a day were featured on the Mainstage and another four on the other side of the park at the International Stage.

What follows over the next three posts, will be my thoughts on the festival, opinions on performances and observations on some things that caught my attention. In addition, there are some photos and video clips. So this is not so much a review as it is a recap.

DAY ONE 5/26

Have to confess that the fam and I moved slowly on Saturday morning, while leaving Charlotte for Atlanta. So slowly that it backfired a bit. By the time we got everything we needed, dropped the dog off at doggie care, drove the 4 hours to ATL, dropped off our luggage at the hotel, found parking and walked back to the park, we unfortunately had managed to miss the first Mainstage performance by Dwight Andrews.  We settled in as Cyrus Chestnut was finishing his first number, which meant that   I was too late to take pictures of the “Nut Man”.  A bit disappointing, but it was my own fault.

Ernie Gregory, the renowned jazz photographer and Atlanta Jazz Festival emcee. introduces Kathleen Bertrand

As for Mr. Chestnut and his trio, they were up to their usual level of excellence. Chestnut, Dezron Douglas on bass and Neal Smith on drums have worked together long enough now that they are in musical lockstep. By the time they reached “CC Rider” the crowd had joined them, rocking along and snapping fingers as one. Another terrific performance by a great group.

 Between sets, we got settled in, enjoyed gourmet popsicles from a vendor who called himself “King of Pops”. My son John and I also took time to shoot our first vlogs of the weekend.

Up next was Atlanta-based vocalist Kathleen Bertrand.  Ms. Bertrand, an attractive and appealing singer, immediately caught the attention of the crowd with her pop influenced jazz vocals and her form-fitting dress.  Most of her material came from her latest album Katharsis, including “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, the set opener and the strong originals, “Date Night” and “Don’t Let It Die”; which is a plea for the survival of mainstream jazz.  A medley of standards in the middle of the set missed the mark a bit, but Ms Bertrand recovered strongly with an appropriate set closer “Jazz at Piedmont Park”.  It was a good set overall and it left the crowd feeling energetic and ready for the headliner.

Kathleen Bertrand performs “Wrapped Around Your Finger” at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

 And that headliner was the great Roy Ayers. I watched Mr. Ayers move slowly backstage prior to the performance (he is in his seventies, after all). However when his introduction came and he hit the stage, he did it with more energy than many men half his age.  He exhorted the crowd, sang, told stories and even played a little on the vibes. It was a virtual love fest as young and not so young on the by now packed lawn sang and danced along with “Red Black and Green”, “We Live in Brooklyn Baby”, “Searching”, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and the inevitable set closer, “Running Away”. Kathleen Bertrand even returned, joining Roy on vocals on one number. Roy Ayers is still a great performer and a very good vibraphonist. His vocals are by now, a bit shaky, but again, he is 71 and an R & B/Hip-Hop/Jazz legend.  He came and gave the crowd what they wanted and we all went home happy and anticipating another great day on Sunday. 

 

Roy Ayers exhorts the crowd during his performance at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest

 

And Sunday was a great day, with a real revelation for me.

More on that in the next post, which will include more photos and performance footage.

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – The International Stage

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , , , , , , on May 26, 2012 by curtjazz

There is so much jazz going on at the Atlanta Jazz Festival, which begins Saturday in Piedmont Park, that one stage couldn’t hold it all.  Though we’ve been talking about all of the Mainstage Acts (We still have to cover Monday!), there are a lot of terrific albeit lesser-known artists performing on the Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage. Many of these artists are based in the Atlanta area.  These performances will be going on simultaneously with the ones on the Mainstage, so you will have to choose. But either way you’ll win with some great jazz.

Among the International Stage names that caught my eye were trumpeter Melvin Jones, who made a big impression during last years festival as he backed singer Audrey Shakir; Saunders Sermons is a very fine vocalist/trombonist; Ernest “EC3” Coleman; a hard swinging drummer and Mace Hibbard, a strong saxophonist. Now that I look at the lineup, the International Stage would make for a damn fine festival, all by itself.

I’ve dropped the complete International Stage Schedule and a few video clips below. Check the clips out, then if you’re at the festival this weekend drop by the International Stage and check these artists out. You’re in for a pleasant surprise.

2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival International Stage Schedule

Saturday, May 26

Sunday, May 27

Monday, May 28

For more info on the individual artists, click on their names to access their websites or Facebook pages, where available.

For more info on the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest, visit their website http://atlantafestivals.com

Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Cyrus Chestnut Trio

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , on May 6, 2012 by curtjazz

Though it will be Saturday afternoon, there’s a good chance that we will begin the 35th Atlanta Jazz Festival “in church”, thanks to the first two artists.  Opening the Festival at 3 p.m. will be reedman Dwight Andrews, who in addition to his prowess on the saxophone and flute, is also known as Rev. Dr. Dwight Andrews – Senior Minister of Atlanta’s First Congregational Church.  We can expect the good Reverend Doctor, a Yale Music and Divinity grad, who is also an Emory University Music School Professor, to bring us some fine jazz with an ecumenical touch, such as in the clip below.

Dr. Andrews will be followed by the Cyrus Chestnut Trio. Mr. Chestnut has held a prominent position in the jazz piano world ever since he captured public imagination with his Atlantic Records debut Revelation, back in 1994.  Though Chestnut does not carry Dr. Andrews’ pastoral credentials, Chestnut’s playing has always had a very strong gospel influence, because of his deep church roots.  He has even included a non-secular track or two on most of his albums. In 2009, he went all the way, releasing the beautiful Spirit, a solo piano album of gospel tunes.  Last year, he returned to the trio format with Journeys.  His latest release is his first pure quartet date. It’s called, appropriately, The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet; it features the terrific young saxophonist, Stacy Dillard.

Mr. Chestnut and his trio are scheduled to hit the AJF mainstage at 5 p.m. I’ve seen him live a number of times and I’ve never been disappointed, he plays a bop/blues/gospel hybrid that is second to none.  If you’re planning on catching the Atlanta Jazz Festival on Saturday, May 26, make sure to get there in time for Cyrus Chestnut. He’ll leave you with a smile on your face and joy in your heart.

For further information about the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/

2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival – Get Ready!

Posted in Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012, JazzLives! with tags , on April 18, 2012 by curtjazz

Official 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival Artwork by Corey Barksdale

You may recall that last May, I documented in this blog my family’s trip to the 34th Annual Atlanta Jazz Festival. Last year, it was a spur of the moment decision that we made, based on the luck of our work schedules. The music was great and we had a great time, until my Sunday evening eye incident.

Well, this year we are well ahead of schedule. And I plan to carry plenty of insect repellent to keep nasty flying things out of my face. It’s a good thing, as the lineup is even stronger than last year’s.

First of all there’s an extra day of free music. Where the 2011 Festival had two free days; this year the free portion of the festival in Piedmont Park extends through Monday. And we will be there to catch every minute.

Here’s a look at this year’s lineup:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sunday, May 27

Monday, May 28

In addition to these artists on the Main Stage, there will also be a lot happening on the Atlanta International Jazz Stage, where some fine up and coming artists will be featured, such as bassist Omer Avital, vocalist/trombonist Saunders Sermons and trumpeter Melvin Jones, who set the house on fire on the main stage last year, in an appearance with vocalist Audrey Shakir.  The International Stage shows go on simultaneously with the Main Stage shows, but it’s definitely worth checking out at some point during the weekend.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the AJF, that was not a typo earlier, it is free.  One of the largest and finest free jazz festivals in the country, or even in the world.  So get there early, bring your lawn chair and your cooler and make a weekend of it.  I’ll be dropping blog posts regularly over the next six weeks, leading up to the festival, with further information about the artists. I’ll also be vlogging live from the festival, as we did last year.

For information about Piedmont Park, a full event schedule and hotel accommodation suggestions, visit the Atlanta Jazz Festival website.

Well see you in the ATL on May 26th!

Concert Review – Delfeayo Marsalis in Charlotte, NC

Posted in JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2011 by curtjazz

I’ve been a resident of Charlotte, NC for almost 11 years.  I must admit that during most of that time, the choices for mainstream jazz have been at best, limited.  Yes, there have been a few establishments that have called themselves “jazz” clubs, but they have mostly offered what we sometimes call “grown folks music”, that is, a mix of radio hit-based R & B instrumentals;  vocalists whose time atop the pop charts has passed and competently performed, but unimaginative “smooth” jazz.  Economic times being what they are, even those clubs have fallen by the wayside.  Though there would be the occasional appearance of a jazz star, they were few and far between.

I tell you that to tell you this.  To quote Martin Luther King, we straight ahead jazz fans are now “able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”.  Within the past 15 months, Charlotte has played host to well-attended concerts by notables such as Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, Branford Marsalis and now another Marsalis brother, Delfeayo; who brought a vibrant quintet to the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square last week.  I’m going to cut to the chase: it was the finest jazz concert I’ve seen since I’ve lived in this city.

The concert was presented by the Jazz Arts Initiative, a new non-profit organization composed of educators, cultural arts patrons, musicians and individuals, all dedicated to the continued development of Charlotte’s arts heritage.  Headed by Lonnie Davis, the JAI has shown great potential to succeed where other similar organizations have failed –  first because they have already produced tangible results, such as last night’s concert and the ongoing educational programs for elementary and secondary school students; second, because they have shown a willingness to use social media, to an extent that prior organizations have not and finally, because they are funded in part by The Charlotte Arts and Science Council, giving them needed legitimacy with local arts fundraisers.

The evening was kicked off in fine fashion by the JAI All-Star Youth Jazz Ensemble, a promising group of youngsters, all in their teens: Quinn Bannon on drums; Phillip Howe on trumpet; Claire Lucas, bass; Steven Ray (remember that name) on guitar and Alex Sherman, piano. These well-trained, enthusiastic kids delivered solid, swinging takes on Miles’ “Four” and Sam Jones’ “Unit 7”. Their performances bode well for the future of JAI and Charlotte area jazz.

Delfeayo took the stage immediately after the JAI Youth; relaxed, in good humor and ready to swing. Surprisingly, he played no music from his latest, album Sweet Thunder, an Ellington tribute. Instead, he delighted the audience with tunes from the jazz canon and his own compositional catalog.  He broke with tradition by kicking the set off, not with a flag-waver but with Strayhorn’s “Intimacy of the Blues”.  Marsalis and the quartet, consisting of his longtime pianist Victor “Red” Atkins, John Brown on bass and Charlotte’s own Ocie Davis on drums, had the crowd feeling “intimate” as we hummed, swayed and responded with sundry expressions of approval. 

Another regular Marsalis ally, saxophonist Derek Douget and trumpeter Ashlin Parker, a Charlotte native who shows remarkable promise; joined the group for a bouncy romp through the old warhorse “Drum Boogie”.  This delight was followed by one of the high points of the evening, Elvin Jones’ “The Lone Warrior”, a tune inspired, as we found out in Delfeayo’s expository comments, by Jones’ father’s refusal to answer his draft notice.  Marsalis and Douget and Atkins painted a story of haunting determination in their solos and the ensemble passages. You could envision the proud, resolute Jones père as he marched through his 25 mile journey. 

From a previous performance, here’s Delfeayo’s group on an excerpt from “The Lone Warrior”, featuring Mark Gross…

The second half of the show was devoted to numbers penned by Marsalis:  the dark, haunting “Lost in the Crescent”, the appropriately whimsical “Br’er Rabbit” (both from Marsalis’ underrated Minions Dominions album).  And the compelling set closer, “The Weary Ways of Mary Magdalene” from his debut album Pontius Pilate’s Decision.   That tune’s percussive piano vamp grabbed my attention when I first heard it nearly 20 years ago and it still moves me in the same way now.

After the concert was over, Mr. Marsalis returned to the stage for a Q & A session with the audience.  In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere that had been established, Marsalis was gracious with his time and expansive with his answers, peppering his responses with interesting anecdotes and raucous humor. 

To close the evening, there was one more selection.  Victor Atkins returned to join Delfeayo for reminiscence about the beginning of their musical partnership, followed by a duet on “What a Wonderful World”. It was truly a wonderful evening of jazz in Charlotte, one of many we hope to see in the near future here. Kudos to Delfeayo Marsalis and his fine sextet, to the JAI All-Star Youth Ensemble and to Lonnie Davis and The Jazz Arts Initiative; thanks to them, the future of jazz in this city looks very bright, indeed.

Delfeayo Marsalis website: http://delfeayomarsalis.com Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/delfeayo

The Jazz Arts Initiative website: http://www.thejazzarts.org Follow them on Twitter: http://twitter.com/theJazzArts

For Father’s Day – A Great Son of Jazz

Posted in JazzLives!, The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , on June 18, 2011 by curtjazz

On Father’s Day, Charlotte will be hosting a concert by a son of “America’s First Family of Jazz”.  NEA Jazz Master Delfeayo Marsalis will appear at the McGlohon Theatre in Spirit Square on Sunday, June 19; at 7:30 p.m.

This will be the internationally acclaimed trombonist/producer/educator’s second appearance in Charlotte this year.  He was last with us in February for a series of educational workshops and concerts. He also took time out for a hot jam session at Sullivan’s in South End, which was documented in this blog

Here’s Delfeayo and his dad Ellis, on “Sultry Serenade”

Marsalis is of course, the son of renowned pianist/educator Ellis Marsalis and the brother of jazzmen Branford, Wynton and Jason Marsalis.  His father and brothers share the NEA Jazz Master Award with Delfeayo.  He’ll be playing selections from his latest critically acclaimed album Sweet Thunder (Duke & Shak) and more.   The JAI All-Star Youth Jazz Ensemble will open this event.

The concert is being presented by the Jazz Arts Initiative, a new non-profit organization made up of educators, cultural arts patrons, musicians and individuals dedicated to the continued development of Charlotte’s arts heritage.

The remaining tickets are on sale for $25. (The $35 VIP seats are sold out.) They are available online through CarolinaTix

I will be there, courtesy of a generous Father’s Day gift from my wife and son. I hope to see you there too.