Iowa City Proves Ideal Setting for Jazz Festival
While it may have worked for Robert Preston in The Music Man—the film set in a fictionalized version of nearby Mason City—no deception was needed at this year’s Iowa City Jazz Fest to captivate audiences. Over the Fourth of July weekend, Iowa City was an ideal festival backdrop, and yet another place that jazz calls home.
“It’s one of the warmest places that we’ve been in a minute,” quipped trumpeter Christian Scott (aka Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah) during his stage banter. “Not warm in terms of the weather, but in the disposition of the people,” he added. The crowd was obviously moved by Scott’s candor, not to mention his group’s 90-minute set on July 6.
Scott’s long, soulful trumpet tones played well against guitarist Matthew Stevens’ chordal riffs on “Rewind That,” the title track from Scott’s 2006 Concord debut. It was a treat to hear the roots of what Scott has termed “stretch music.”
Earlier in the afternoon, guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Scott Amendola’s blues-inspired set laid the foundation for a rhythm section-dominated weekend. Trumpeter Philip Dizack opened his Sunday afternoon set with “Take Me With You.” Drummer Jon Deitemyer and bassist Matt Ulery’s samba rhythm, framed by pianist Stu Mindeman’s subtle, repetitious chords, was a perfect setup for Dizack’s horn entrance. Keeping his phrasing simple at first, Dizack’s voice grew more distinctive with a barrage of alternating long and clipped notes, adding more interplay with the band, especially Ulery.
On July 7, saxophonist JD Allen’s trio played a set that one might expect to hear during a late-night jam session. Sans time constraints or an identifiable set list, each player went deeper inside the music, notably rising drummer Jonathan Barber. “Nothing’s premeditated,” said Barber, shortly after the boundless set. “We don’t talk before about what tunes we’re going to play. [JD] gets up there and plays a couple of notes, then we kind of figure out the tune and just go forth.”
Legendary tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders closed out the festival, leaving an indelible mark with a set that largely paid homage to John Coltrane. “Welcome,” written and recorded by Coltrane (and later included on the CD version of Transition), was both a greeting and a nod to Sanders’ collaboration with Coltrane in the late ’60s, when they ventured together into new artistic territory. Pianist William Henderson built tension with rolling chords, setting the path for Sanders to come in with strong, lingering tones. Sanders delivered his sermon to the crowd, as the sun went down in Iowa City.
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— Shannon J. Effinger