Coast Of Creation
Jazz is alive and well and living in Big Sur.
Thursday, May 3, 2001
Jazz is not dead. Despite the critics'' insistence to the contrary, it is very much alive. It lives in the group improvisation of jam bands, in the twisted fury of avant-progressive punks, in the discordant noise of alternative rockers. And it still beats strong in the hearts of those who carry the torch for traditionalists. I discovered this firsthand last September in Big Sur.
Strolling into Fernwood--better known for blues, rock and a huge weekend barbecue--I was struck by a rapid succession of notes pouring forth from a trumpet. Roy Hargrove and his quintet were playing a nearly secret show (it had been advertised on the radio only a week before), there was no cover and the music was unbelievable. A friend of mine visiting from Boston remarked, "Even in New York you''d probably pay over $30 to see these guys."
Equally amazing was the casual atmosphere of the show. Older patrons sat next to twentysomethings, and the band hung out at the bar between and after sets.
A similar breeziness can be expected this weekend at the 6th annual Big Sur JazzFest. Hargrove will be resuming the role of headliner that he played during the festival''s first three years. The rest of the lineup represents a number of styles spanning the world of jazz.
While several shows approach or exceed that dangerous $30 mark, it is possible to see a lot of jazz for a relatively small amount of money. And, even for the expensive shows, the coastal vistas and misty redwoods providing the stage backdrops sure seem to beat a smoky, dingy New York club for the price.
Friday features four shows, three of which ask only for a donation. Alegría plays salsa-style hot jazz at Loma Vista around 5pm or so. The up-tempo numbers should be good for dancing, and the chance to see Latin music at an outdoor venue is pretty enticing. Those into something a little more mellow should check out local faves Lucidology at the Bonito Roadhouse at 6pm. Jacqui Hope provides vocals to Joe Lucido''s guitar, but it''s tough to say which one is the main focus of the music. Make sure you listen to both. Later, drummer Eddie Marshall and Holy Mischief play the River Inn.
The JazzFest really kicks into full gear on Saturday, with seven different bands playing as many venues. In addition, performance painter Nancy Peacock will display paintings inspired by the occasion''s music. Peacock also will frequent the shows, painting up a storm the entire time.
One pricier show that will definitely be worth the price of admission is trombonist Robin Eubanks and his band, Mental Images, at the Henry Miller Library. The band plays both acoustic and electric music, with Eubanks playing an enhanced electric trombone on certain tunes. They''ll likely play some Hendrix-inspired numbers from their latest album, Blues for Jimi, and it''ll be interesting to see how the history-soaked residence affects band and audience.
After the Eubanks set, stroll up Highway 1 a bit to catch the Donny McCaslin Quartet at Nepenthe. The restaurant''s terrace will serve as the setting for the Santa Cruz-born saxophonist''s jazz/rock fusion. The artists playing Nepenthe each year seem to serve as festival favorites, and the absence of a cover (price of admission is a donation) makes this a good bet. If you are in Big Sur at 5pm on Saturday and not at this show, you are a fool.
The Grammy-nominated Roy Hargrove Quintet recorded its last album in Big Sur, has never disappointed a JazzFest crowd, and plays the Hawthorne Gallery at 7pm Saturday. Enough said. Bass/piano/drum trio 3Prime plays the Ventana Inn later around 9pm.
A late Saturday night reward for nighthawks is Living Daylights, which takes the Fernwood stage from 10pm ''til closing time. I saw this trio play the River Inn a few weeks ago, and the band seemed as stoked as the audience. The band plays a jazz fusion, sort of like Return to Forever with really good grooves. Think "Bitch''s Brew" as played by Phish. Drummer Dale Fanning''s energy has no limits, and his drumming is matched, albeit in a weird way, by saxophonist Jessica Lurie''s avant blasts and bassist Arne Livingston''s riffy lines. This is more of a dancing than sitting show, so you won''t snooze here (pass out maybe, but definitely not fall asleep).
Things don''t start up on Sunday until 11am, which gives you plenty of time to eat a good breakfast and recover from the night before. Sunday in the Park, in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, is the crown jewel of the festival, bringing together most of the performers from the previous two days. 3Prime kicks things off in a traditional way, playing that wide open West Coast jazz, followed by an even more traditional group, the Marcus Shelby Orchestra, a 13-piece big band that will be doing arrangements of tunes by king of class Duke Ellington and king of cool Charles Mingus, among others.
Things get a little funkier later in the afternoon, with Living Daylights making another appearance. Eddie Marshall and Holy Mischief play next, smoothing things out and preparing the audience for the headliner.
The Roy Hargrove Quintet will finish things out for the evening. Even if you see Roy and the gang at the Hawthorne Gallery on Saturday, they are worth a second trip. For the Pfeiffer gig, they''ll be joined by the Monterey Jazz Festival String Quintet.
And as the sun sets on the Big Sur valley, the last rays climb up and over Mount Manuel, and the sounds of Hargrove''s trumpet, backed by a contingent of strings, fills the cooling air, you''ll feel the heart of jazz pumping vigorously. Jazz lives, you see.
For reservations or more info about this weekend''s Big Sur JazzFest, click on www.bigsurjazz.org or call 667-1530.