Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Future Looks Bright for Jazz & Colors

The second annual Jazz & Colors festival in Central Park was a success for the same reasons that Make Music NY has been such a failure: time and temperature. Sometimes it’s that simple. Make Music NY synchronizes itself with the worldwide Fête de la Musique (the annual French busk-a-thon) on the June 21 solstice, meaning that musicians playing outdoor spaces around town wait til the sun goes down before they start, just as any reasonable person would. And by then, the rush hour crowd has rushed home to their air conditioning, or at least their window fans. Jazz & Colors, on the other hand, is held on the weekend, this particular Saturday on an absolutely gorgeous, brisk afternoon, and while crowds could have been bigger, they were a good representation of the vast expanse of demographics that make up this city. A scattering of diehards raced across the park to catch their favorite acts, a smattering of tourists seemed smitten by the chance to see so many big names for free, while random groups of New Yorkers from across the age spectrum – many among them who probably can’t afford jazz club prices – took in an eclectic, energetic bunch of performances.

How do you find your way around Jazz & Colors? With a map. This year there was one available online, and there were helpful volunteers handing out copies at the 72nd Street entrance on the west side as well as at some of the performance sites. The concept this year was to have everybody play the same two set lists, mostly standards, with a few unexpected treats and a little room for originals. Placement of the acts playing the roughly four-hour festival was perfect. There was none of the sonic competition you get between stages at, say, a Lollapalooza or Warped Tour, yet the distance between bands was short enough to encourage ambitious spectators to catch several and maybe compare interpretations and arrangements.

Pianist Arturo O’Farrill, leading his explosive Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra from behind a real grand piano on the Naumburg Bandshell, sardonically thanked the promoters for “Telling us what songs to play,” although he hastened to add that this had been a valuable learning experience. Unhappy with one arrangement they’d devised, they’d tossed it out and come up with a new one on the fly. Toward the end of one characteristically high-voltage Afro-Cuban romp, he gave his bassist a solo – who says that playing bass in a big band is a thankless task? They eventually went off set list for Las Vegas Tango, doing it as a psycho mambo that practically outdid Gil Evans and was too much fun to be vengeful, although a crescendo or two more might have pushed it past redline. Then they did their “We Live in Brooklyn Baby Milongo,” as O’Farrill put it, mambo-izing Roy Ayers’ many-times-sampled groove.

To the north and west, alto saxophonist Yosvany Terry was playing a similarly groove-driven set, leading a quartet with bass, drums and electric piano through a mesmerizingly pulsing, tropical take of A Night in Tunisia, swapping Eastern Hemisphere for the west. Then they kicked off Ray Noble’s Cherokee as brightly trad, tiptoeing swing before fattening it with a Nuyorican sway, Terry eventually swapping his sax for a chekere and adding another layer of irresistible rhythmic energy. A little further south, Brian Charette‘s organ “sextette” turned in one of the funniest and least expected moments of the afternoon on the turnaround out of the chorus of an otherwise aptly moody, shadowy Harlem Nocturne, where the horns all went crazy for a bar or two before the verse slunk around again  They also made sly ghetto lounge jazz out of Take the A Train, swung Coltrane’s Grand Central Station hard with solos from alto and tenor sax, flute and bass clarinet, and gave Terry a run for his Cuban money with that same Dizzy Gillespie tune, Charette playing basslines with his left hand since he didn’t have his Hammond B3 with the pedals.

Meanwhile, just up the hill, bassist Russell Hall was leading the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars – in this case, a quartet that seemed to be a mostly student ensemble – with a purist but puckish touch, at one point wrly kicking off a solo with some unexpected, sotto vocce high horn voicings when the tenor saxophonist passed him the baton. And it was good to be able to catch the tail end of the string-driven Marika Hughes & Bottom Heavy outside the Delacorte Theatre, featuring the bandleader on cello and vocals along with Charlie Burnham on violin plus bass, guitar and drums. Hughes sang without a mic, but she didn’t need it, wrapping up her set with a richly bittersweet, darkly bluesy “love song to New York and Gil Scott-Heron.” By now, clouds had settled in overhead and fingers were getting cold, so the conclusion was timed perfectly. There were many other A-list bandleaders playing across the park, including but not limited to drummer Kim Thompson, baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall, klezmer-jazz trumpeter Frank London, bassist Gregg August, guitarist Joel Harrison, violinist Jason Kao Hwang and over a dozen other groups. If jazz is your thing – and if you’re reading this, it probably is –  and you’re in New York a year from now, don’t miss this festival.

November 10, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Free, Fantastic Jazz Festival in Central Park on November 9

The second annual Jazz & Colors festival is coming up on Saturday, November 9 from around noon til 4 PM. It’s sort of Make Music NY for jazz, but on a cool, enjoyable fall day rather than in the middle of a horrible New York summer.

The concept is to have a whole bunch of first-rate New York talent playing two sets of standards, including a couple of unexpected favorites from Gil Scott-Heron and Roy Ayers. Wander through Central Park and see what great surprises you find, or stake out an area and see your favorite act/s for free! There’s a complete schedule and map available here.

The first set, beginning at noon, will include: “Caravan” –  the classic first performed by Duke Ellington in 1936; “Bemsha Swing” by Thelonious Monk, appearing on his acclaimed 1957 LP Brilliant Corners; “Cherokee” – written in 1938 by Ray Noble and recorded by numerous jazz musicians over the decades; “A Night in Tunisia” — one of the signature pieces of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band; “So What” — the opening track on Miles Davis’ 1959 album Kind of Blue; “Footprints” by legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter; “Maiden Voyage” — one of Herbie Hancock’s best-known compositions; the unmistakable “Take 5” by Paul Desmond, first performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet on their 1959 album Time Out; and “Tenor Madness” by the Saxophone Colossus, Sonny Rollins, originally a twelve-minute piece recorded in 1956 with John Coltrane.

The second set (following an intermission) will include: Billy Strayhorn’s “Take The A Train”, written by in 1939 for the Duke Ellington Orchestra; the frequently recorded “Harlem Nocturne” (1939) by Earle Hagen; “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, composed by Chick Webb in 1934 and named after the Savoy Ballroom that once existed in Harlem; “Grand Central” by John Coltrane, recorded in 1959 on Cannonball & Coltrane; “Central Park North” by Thad Jones, the title track from the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra’s album from 1969; “New York City” by Gil Scott-Heron, arranged by Brian Jackson, from their joint 1976 recording It’s Your World; “A Foggy Day in London Town” by George Gershwin, which appeared in the  1937 Fred Astaire film A Damsel in Distress; “Las Vegas Tango” from The Individualism of Gil Evans (1964); and the jazz-funk-soul classic “We Live in Brooklyn Baby” by pianist Harry Whitaker, appearing on Roy Ayers’ 1971 recording He’s Coming.

October 28, 2013 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , | Leave a comment