Newport Jazz Festival Testifies to the Vitality of Today’s Artists
The opportunity to dart among Newport’s three platforms for a moment of everyone can be irresistible, but a hurried pace also results in some misses. I heard only moments in passing of Rez Abbasi’s trio, Terence Blanchard’s quintet, Chick Corea’s new assemblage The Vigil and harpist Edmar Castañeda’s quintet. I caught enough of Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society to cringe at the terrible sound of her electric bass and the self-centered vacuity of her material—I’ve enjoyed her in other settings. The bit I heard of Marcus Miller’s show, at my exhausted end of a long Saturday afternoon, convinced me that he’s the king of jazz-funk.
Though restless, I hung in for most of the Newport celebration of Wayne Shorter’s 80th birthday (and via audio posted by WBGO/National Public Radio have re-listened to the set). Starting with a game of tag he played with his great friend Herbie Hancock, Shorter was in spirited, generous form. He warmed up quickly on soprano sax, turning an initially out-of-tune honk into steely piping, outlining “Footprints” and expanding on it. Shorter switched to tenor when Hancock left and seemed more robustly comfortable with that horn than in any of his other concerts I’ve attended over the past 20 years.
Joined by pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade of his much-hailed quartet, Shorter stayed front and center for an hour, making music without a net. Here for once his insistence on no set list, no rehearsal and direction depending entirely upon interactive rapport paid off. Alluding to Shorter classics including “Masqualero,” “Pinocchio” and “Orbits” without slavishly staying with them, the quartet entered and mapped new territory. Blade tends to make every two measures an explosion, and Perez seldom digs into a motif long enough to develop many variations, but in this case their efforts achieved unity and flow. Patitucci’s bowing often served as a connective, but Shorter’s own attention was key to the set’s success.
I might have made a mistake leaving Shorter on the main stage before Hancock returned to play four-handed with Pérez, but I wanted to know what the Glasper Experiment was up to. With soprano saxist Casey Benjamin spewing long phrases at the lip of the stage, keyboardist Glasper rocked steady, stringing together quotes of none other than Shorter. With that, the Newport festival came full circle, younger artists emulating their seniors, and elder artists—give it up for 88-year-spry Roy Haynes, who drives his Fountain of Youth band with enviable snap and crackle—demonstrating that in jazz experience is valuable, not a reason to consider players past their due dates. That lesson suggests great things for the Newport Jazz Festival in 2014, when it turns 60.
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