Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: Saturday

Saturday followed a similar pattern as Friday - check out a couple of gigs in the marquee's before the evening concerts on the main stage.

Gregory Porter
The Nick Mazzarella Trio started off my day. Mazzarella's burning alto was teamed with his regular rhythm section paring of Anton Hatwich (b) Frank Rosaly (d). They jumped straight into a high energy set of originals from the leader. A ballad made a welcome appearance about four tunes in, providing some contrast to the searing bite I have come to expect from Mazarella. I wasn't digging the live sound today - loud, boxy and metallic. It may not have been helped by the fairly empty tent . The crowd was down on the day before - not helped by the weather (it had been raining all day and started pouring not long before the set started). Mazarella's tone in particular suffered - while it is edgy and biting, I found the P.A sound made it one dimensionally bright. I felt for the trio as it really didn't do their sound any justice.

I left the set slightly early so as not to miss the start the Hamid Drake Quartet with Kidd Jordan (ts) Cooper-Moore (p) and William Parker (b) over in the southern tent. Murphy's law..... they started late! It was amateur hour during the set up. With a large crowd waiting the band made efforts to set up and sound check as music pumped through the P.A. No surprises then that when the music got underway the mix was terrible. In general it was a loud, wash of sound - no clarity at all. Parker's bass sounded like I giant amplified rubber band and the piano was obnoxiously bright and way too high in the mix. After a long free improvisation, they finally worked out that the bass was humming. I changed seats, then moved to the back of the tent. No improvement. I left. This must have been close to the worst live sound I have heard. Very disappointing. 
Rudresh Mahanthappa's "GAMAK"
The evening of concerts on the main stage started off with vocalist Gregory Porter (v) and his band of Chip Crawford (p) Aaron James (b) Yosuke Satoh (as) Emanuel Howard (d). I arrived during the set and could hear the crowd applauding well before I could see them. The rain during the day had cleared and a large audience had turned out - in the seated area and on the lawn. Lucky for me there were a couple of  empty seats down at the front of stage so I set up camp there for the night. It was a nice group and I can see why Porter gets plenty of attention and the crowd were really into it. The band backed him up well - bass and drums were a good pairing and the some nice comping from the piano. The odd one out, for me, was the alto to Satoh - his tone and phrasing seemed to be coming more from a "smooth jazz" type thing. While he played well and offered contrast to Porter's vocals I felt someone more in classic "Chicago-tenor" mold would have rounded the group out more seamlessly. 

Saturday Night's audience
Second up on the main stage was Rudresh Mahanthappa's "GAMAK" with David Fiuczynski (g) Francois Moutin (b) Dan Weiss (d). Mahanthappa's seamless blend of jazz-isms & Karnatic-isms (!), Moutin holding down rock solid bass, Fiuczynski's rock sensibilities, and rhythm mastery from Weiss combined for set of driving, high energy music (Off-kilter Indian-jazz-rock was written in my notebook). Lots of chops on display - both sax and guitar are lighting quick - but the music was interesting. If you are after something different, the group released an album at the start of the year. Weiss's drumming was the stand out to me. I've heard a few recordings he's been on but I believe this was the 1st time I'd heard him live (I'd need to double check my notebooks.... I may have heard him with David Binney). Music just seemed to be flowing out of him with minimal effort - wonderful. 
Rounding out the night was the Jason Moran: Fats Waller Dance Party. Moran (p/fender rhodes)  along with Earl Travis (b) Joshua Roseman (trb) Leron Thomas (trpt) Charles Haynes (d) Lisa E. Harris (vocal) Martin Sewell (g) and members of the Organic Magnetics dance company put a modern spin on classic tunes by Waller. This was really well put together but not my thing at all - at least not on that night... perhaps my mind was on the early start on Sunday morning to head to NYC? I renewed my membership with the Jazz Institute of Chicago and took my opportunity to get a head start on the exiting crowd.

Some final thoughts......Though this particular post has bit of a negative feel, I did enjoy the first three days of the festival. I would have been at the fourth had I not been NYC bound. The festival does a nice job mixing up the program. It seems like there is something for everyone - mainstream, up and comers, veterans, local artists, traditional groups, freer music, school bands - a nice cross-section of the jazz spectrum. The weather was the biggest hassle - hot, humid and sticky one day, thunder storm the next - but people still turned out. You can't beat the price - free admission! Combine that with the Millennium Park location (in the heart of downtown Chicago) and I'm sure it brings in a lot of listeners that wouldn't normally go to such gigs. Lets hope there is a flow on effect for the live scene. The volunteers I dealt with were great too.
The Main Stage - Saturday Night

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