Monterey Jazz Fest 2011: Day 3
September 19, 2011
Photo by Nic Coury
If festival creep was starting to saturate returnees to the Monterey Jazz Festival on Sunday, the numbers of people—and the lively looks on their faces—didn't suggest it. Despite being drenched by the sun, chilled by the night, bustled by crowds and infused with powerful music Friday and Saturday, the crowds returned in force on Sunday, hungry for more. And they got it.
In the Arena, a meditative and bright performance by Terence Blanchard and Peter Erskine in the Miles Davis/Gil Evans tribute performance captured the hearts and minds of a capacity crowd. Young musical talents got a taste of the big time when the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts Big Band and this year's crop of the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, lead by artist-in-residence Joshua Redman, mounted the big Arena stage in the afternoon, while high school bands and combos cycled through the Night Club venue all day.
Sunday's attendees found some startling rewards at the Garden stage, where the Tia Fuller Quartet (three women on piano, upright bass and saxophone, and a lone man on drums) blew through a fierce and uncompromising set that ignited the substantial crowd on combustible jams and soothed during the few mellower moments. Amazing.
At night, a dilemma arrived. How to end such a rich music festival? With the smooth, nimble, sonorous sax of walking legend Sonny Rollins? The unknown x-factor of fusion combo The Robert Glasper Experiment? The Joey DeFrancesco Trio with Bobby Hutcherson? A number of people opted for a little of both. I went to the future of jazz at the Glasper gig, expecting to cut out in the middle and end the night with the sweet and familiar tones of Rollins (or, "Newk," as Charlie Parker dubbed him back in the day) saxophone songs lingering in my head.
But Glasper and pals almost derailed that strategy, to the consternation of the crowd who filled half the building to see them play. They were still messing with mics and some of the copious effects gear and checking sound levels and tuning 30 minutes after they were supposed to have started. The crowd began turning.
"Music!" yelled one attendee as the possibility of catching Sonny Rollins' music slipped away into the night, consumed by the young Glasper band's equipment fiddling and fumbling. Then, Glasper got on the mic and, in a slow drawl, cracked jokes as he introduced his band.
"Thank you, all of you, for being here with us," he said. "I don't know what's wrong with y'all. I would be at Sonny."
Had it been voiced, the collective audience retort might have been: "We're about to be if you don't start playing and stop wasting our time."
But at last they began playing, starting with a long, lone piano intro by Glasper. Then his band burst into the song all at once, which roused the crowd, although the song seemed to drag on too long into jammy territory, instead of making a statement, orienting the listener and ending, like an overture.
That first long song sated a number of people's curiosity; they left after it or during the next song. Some found their way to Sonny's set, the big sax man burly with a mane of white hair and warmed up and backed by a tight rhythm section. Although the 82-year-old spoke to the audience in a gruff, aged voice, his playing was nimble and strong, wrapped around instantly hummable melodies and motifs.
Then there came a text message: "Dude…I came back to rob glasper exper…Bilal & terr blanchard showed up to jam!!!!"
Damn. So it was back across the fairgrounds to the Glasper fellas, who, it seemed, decided to finally show up and prove their stuff. But Blanchard was gone. Instead, Bilal was crooning, in falsetto and baritone, a torch song, the band following gingerly, showing sophistication (across the lawn, at Dizzy's Den, Joey DeFrancesco Trio and Bobby Hutcherson and co. were playing a furiously fast tune that bled into the indulgently slow Bilal number). The Glasper band had also done a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Well. Not only did they show up, but they brought a picture of the future of jazz—cross-overs and musical daring. And that's not a bad way to end a jazz festival.