Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Friday

Friday after was spent checking out some of the gigs in the marquee's in Millennium Park before the evening concerts on the main stage.

Mike Smith (as) Quartet with Jordan Baskin (p ) Jeff Hamann (b) & Brian Ritter (d). Straight-ahead blowing on standard tunes - That is Smith's thing. Not (m)any surprises here. The main reason I got along was to check out the Powell Silver Eagle saxophone in action!

Drummers Hamid Drake & Michael Zerang with the Tsukasa Taiko Youth Unit.
This was something completely different. As the Japanese Drum Ensemble played through it's routine Drake and Zerang, set up on either side, improvised along with them. I thought it came together quite nicely. Hamid Drake was the festival's Artist In Residence and it was great to see him working with kids - with added bonus points for not going down the "high school big band with featured soloist" route. While we're on the subject, there was a stage dedicated to school bands - unfortunately every time I stopped by it was been sets!

The evening concert on the main stage was delayed by about 40mins due to a big storm. Thunder, lightning, and rain…. apparently - we were evacuated to a tunnel under the park so I couldn't see any of it. Anyway, they got the concert going as soon as they could.

First up was Geof Bradfield's "Melba!" - a large ensemble suite dedicated to Melba Liston. 
Bradfield (ts/ss/b.clar) Ryan Cohen (p ) Victor Garcia (trpt/perc) Joel Adams (try) Mike Allemana (g) Clark Sommers (b) George Fludas (d).  Randy Weston joined the group for his composition "Africa Sunrise" (as there was a clap of thunder). I had a hard time getting into this gig. All very professional, nice and clean, but something was missing. One of those gigs where it seems no one makes a mistake - perhaps the focus on composition tempered the spontaneity.

The second show of the night was something I was quite keen to hear. I had read that this work (here's a  link to a page on the work) had been highly praised but hadn't managed to give it a listen yet. Wadada Leo Smith's "Ten Freedom Summers"
Joining Wadada Leo Smith (trpt/conductor) were his Golden Quartet (Anthony Davis p, John Lindberg b, Pheeroan akLaff  d) the string ensemble Pacific Red Coral  (Shalini Vijayan & Mona Tian violins, Andrew McIntosh viola, Ashley Waters cello, Alison Bjorkedal harp) and video artist Jesse Gilbert. 
Here are some translations from my note book scribbles (very messy!)
- Didn't over-write / over-use the strings. Enjoyed what he wrote for them
- Shared the music around the ensemble
- Trumpet sounded great
- At times the rhythm section and string group operated separately… it seemed about 20mins before the entire group were playing together.
- Video artist made a nice contribution…mostly video of the band with abstract lines moving over the top, or just the lines on their own.

Following the concert Wadada Leo Smith as presented with "Trumpeter of the Year" & "Musician of the Year" awards from the Jazz Journalists Association.

It was a powerful concert and perhaps the programmers got things a little muddled when assigning time-slots, as the set following paled in comparison.  A shame really, as this was another group I was keen to hear - Charles Lloyd & Friends feat. Bill Frisell
Alongside Charles Lloyd's tenor sax and alto flute and the guitar of Bill Frisell were Reuben Rogers (b) and Eric Harland (d). Pianist Jason Moran (p ) guested on the first two tunes. This set seemed to take a long time to get off the ground. It felt like they were just hitting their stride as the set was coming to an end. Jazz can do that to you sometimes!

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