Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review of Litchfield Jazz Festival 2012

After many years of being a big jazz fan, it is surprising that I never had attended the Litchfield Jazz Festival right in my home state of Connecticut. One of the reasons I hadn't attended is that I cover the Newport Jazz Festival for WHUS which was on the same weekend. This year, that changed and it gave me the opportunity to attend.

The Festival has moved to the Goshen Fairgrounds. It is a beautiful ride into the country side, and the site has two performance tents as well as tents set up for vendors selling the usual food and wares you might find these events. The main performance stage hosted a great lineup of jazz musicians. A smaller stage is for students that attended the Litchfield jazz camp to perform and attend the informal master classes that the jazz artists put on in between sets. Combine the country setting, with the aspiring young students and the great music on the main stage, and you get a great vibe for a jazz music festival.

The Sunday lineup covered a superb range of many jazz styles. Here is a short review of each of the musicians we saw.

Gregoire Maret is a harmonica player unlike any other since Toots Thielman hit the scene many decades ago. Maret seems to be appearing on every ones new album as a guest artist. His quartet began with a very cerebral sound that escalated in intensity as his set progressed. At times he sounded like Shorter on the mouth harp. It was an exceptional performance.

Donny McCaslin showed his extreme chops on tenor sax. Jason Lindner on Fender Rhodes used lots of electronic echo and modulation effects for that jazz-rock fusion, spaced out sound. At times, those special effects over-shadowed Lindner's real soloing abilities and McCaslin's complex compositions. Tim Lefebvre and Mark Guilliana rocked out on bass and drums. It was a hyper kinetic modern set.

Next up, Hubert Laws, master of flute took the stage. Laws made his mark in jazz with that slick, highly arranged sound that the CTI record label was known for back in the 70's. Hubert still has that sound today. While the music sounded fairly dated, particularly after McCaslin's set, Hubert Laws showed off that pure perfect tone he gets from the flute and piccolo.

Miguel Zenon is one of my favorite alto sax players, composer and arranger, and his set did not disappoint. He played from his latest album which arranges traditional Puerto Rican songs for a modern jazz quartet. These songs had extended soloing which showed Miguel and the quartets skills on their instruments and improvisational abilities.

Lastly, singer Kevin Mahogany and guitarist Dave Stryker finished the show with Kansas City Swing. Swingin' is what they did. It was great to see alto player Mike DiRubbo, who cut his teeth at U of Hartford playing with these cats. They finished off the show with a romping version of Route 66 that had the crowd leaving with a smile.

Litchfield Jazz Festival was a great time. I will be sure to return next year and I urge you to check it out as well.

Clockwise, Gregoire Maret, Hubert Laws, Miguel Zenon, Mike DiRubbo and Dave Stryker

Check out the links below for more photos, podcast and info on the Litchfield Jazz Festival
My complete photo album

My pre-festival podcast

Litchfield Jazz Festival website.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Newport Jazz Festival 2012 Review

Now that we are basking in the afterglow of the most famed and historical annual event in the jazz world, it is time to review the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival. The lineup featured great jazz artists; grand masters and young lions, modern progressives and traditional purveyors of bebop standards.

The festival has three stages. The large main "Fort Stage" is host to the some of the biggest names in Jazz. It has open lawn seating and a beautiful view of the Newport harbor . There are 2 additional stages that are smaller more intimate settings under tents. Here, you will find young emerging jazz cats or established masters playing with their latest ensembles.

For me, the most interesting performances were ones that explored new sounds and stretched beyond traditional jazz bebop forms with free soloing, and unconventional composing. Dafnis Prieto's Sextet best exemplified that style of music with a powerful driving sound. Rudresh's Samdhi set combined rockin' jazz-fusion with Indian melodic influences. Dave Douglas/Joe Lovano's Soundprints Quintet blew freely within compositions inspired by Wayne Shorter.

Rather than reviewing all the performances we saw, I would refer you to the NPR's coverage of the Festival that has great audio and video recordings.

Here are my picks for the standout performances of the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival.

Saturday Fort Stage
  • Pat Metheney Unity Band
Saturday Tent stages
  • Jack DeJohnette Group
  • Dafnis Prieto Sextet
  • Dave Douglas/Joe Lovano Soundprints
Sunday Fort Stage
  • 3 Cohens
Sunday Tent stages
  • Miguel Zenon Rayeula Quartet
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa Samdhi
  • John Hollenbeck Claudia Quintet+1
Below are some of my favorite pictures that I took at the festival, but please see my entire picture gallery here.

(l to r, t to b) Joe Lovano, 3 Cohens, Dana Leong, Pat Metheny, Me with Anat Cohen, Rudresh Mahanthappa

Hear some tunes from artists appearing at the festival on my Newport Preview podcast.
My live tweets during the festival, follow @DigginJazz for all my Twitter posts!

For more information, check out the official Newport Jazz Festival website.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Brain Drain is Back

I just re-activated this blog based on new rules and protocols by Blogger. The biggest change is that blogs now need to be hosted on Blogger, therefore it now has this blogspot URL. I am not sure how I will use this. I see I haven't posted to here since 2009. My last post is a good one! It's from an interview I had done with Jazz bassist Dave Holland. I would like to use this blog, as I had in the past to post not only jazz music articles, but those of a wider range of interests. We will see what happens.