Emerging Forces in Newport
Posted 8/13/2012

Newport Jazz Festival 2012 was, as the cliche goes, “all killer, no filler.” That’s a credit to the youthful spirit of festival President George Wein, 86, who in recent years has embarked on regular talent-scouting expeditions at various New York City venues, both famous and obscure. Armed with recommendations from trusted consiglieres, Wein constructed a program representing an admirable cross-section of what the hardcore 21st century mainstream—performing at staggered intervals on three different stages in Fort Adams State Park over the two days—sounds like at its highest level.

There were big-name veterans (Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny, Dianne Reeves) and mid-career rising stars (James Carter, Anat Cohen, Kurt Elling, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash, Maria Schneider). All of them were juxtaposed with cutting-edge emerging forces—Ambrose Akinmusire, Darcy James Argue, John Ellis (with Double-Wide), John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet with Elling and Theo Bleckman, Rudresh Mahanthappa with Samdhi, Jason Moran and Bandwagon, Gretchen Parlato with Lionel Loueke and Becca Stevens, Dafnis Prieto’s Sextet, The Bad Plus with Frisell, and Miguel Zenón’s Rayuela Quartet with pianist Laurent Cox. Topping it off were new endeavors—the Joe Lovano-Dave Douglas Quintet, Ryan Truesdale’s monumental Gil Evans Centennial Project, and the Three Clarinets Sextet with Cohen, Evan Christopher and Ken Peplowski.

Day one was hot, humid, and cloudless. It was impossible to catch everything, but there were a few indelible, fragmentary impressions:

Jason Marsalis’ impeccable street beats and flawless real-time orchestration propelled Ellis’ charts, redolent with Crescent City vernacular flavors. Big-sound sousaphonist Matt Perrine, an enviably flexible soloist, locked in with spot-on bass lines, setting up texture master Gary Versace on Hammond B3 and accordion;

Prieto offered impassioned readings of elegant, programmatic, bolero-to-timba compositions alongside Peter Apfelbaum and saxophonist Felipe Lamgolia, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, pianist Manuel Valera and bassist Yunior Terry. His well-executed, infinite clave permutations sometimes imparted the illusion that he possesses an extra limb.

Nash subtly and ingeniously executed different patterns and timbres—even using the hi-hat to filigree snare figures generated with his hands—while relentlessly swinging each of the Three Clarinets through a rousing version of “Swing That Music,” followed by “Nightmare,” a slow drag blues by Artie Shaw. Cohen interpreted the tune with heart and soul, soaring through the registers with panache.

Joey Baron embodied an attitude that a form is less a ball-and-chain than an opportunity to stretch boundaries, finding fresh figures that complemented the antipodal phrasings of Douglas and Lovano—and pianist Lawrence Fields—in the most bracing way while always sounding like himself.

Carter’s soloed magisterially and turbulently on tenor during “J.C. Bossa,” spanning low baritone-like roars and high falsetto overtones without a misstep. <> The festival program included two helpings of newly minted NEA Jazz Master DeJohnette, now 70, who took palpable delight at inventing beats on the spot with conguero Luisito Quintero behind an “all-star” group—Tim Ries, Lionel Loueke, Jason Palmer, George Colligan (piano, pocket trumpet, and synth) and McBride&mdash. During an earlier set by his touring quintet, DeJohnette gave master microtonalists David Fiuczynski (“Blue”) and Mahanthappa (“Ahmad The Terrible”) free reign to blow, complemented by Colligan’s unerringly in-the-moment voicings;

There was also a double dose of Frisell, who stretched out with violinist Jenny Scheinman, lap steel player Greg Leisz, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wolleson on the John Lennon repertoire he presented on the 2011 CD All We Are Saying. He later found new paths through Paul Motian songs on a conversational, first-ever encounter with the Bad Plus, who were in fine fettle after a month in Europe.

Reeves, regal in a white linen suite and red cape on the sunny Harbor Stage, applied her sublime instrument to “Nine” and “32 Flavors” with customary authority.

Argue, in an Edwardian gray jacket and a complementary cravat, lead his Secret Society Orchestra through “Sift,” on which muted trumpets and trombones complemented Sam Sadigursky’s kaleidoscopic clarinet solo.

There was only time for a taste of Chris Potter’s ascendant solo to launch the final set, by Pat Metheny’s Unity Project; like everything else on this wonderful afternoon, you wished you could stay for the whole thing.

—Ted Panken

Jenny Scheinman and Bill Frisell (Photo: LaNita Adams)


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Lisa Hilton

Steve Webster—EC Barlow

Jody Jazz


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