By Michael Katz
Saturday afternoon will long be remembered for Trombone Shorty’s march on Monterey. To say he stole the show doesn’t do him justice. It’s like calling Gen. Sherman a cat burgler. But I’ll try and set the stage, as the afternoon started innocently enough…
JOHN FIRMIN & THE NOCTURNE BAND
I always try to begin Saturday at the Garden Stage. It’s the heart and soul of the festival, small enough for the artists to connect with the audience, a combination picnic ground, performance space and all around hoot. John Firmin had advertised his show as “A Tribute to Hank Crawford, David ‘Fathead’ Newman and Leroy ‘Hog’ Cooper” so I’m not sure how they decided upon Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” to open the show. It’s the kind of thing that can get aging boomers to start counting dead brain cells. Fortunately, they moved on to Hank Crawford’s ouevre, with a rousing “Hollywood Blues,” featuring Scott Peterson on tenor, Firmin on alto and some fine trumpet work by Pete Sembler.
The program took on a knockout blues tone when Miz Dee strutted out, a generously built woman who got the crowd going by belting out “Hound Dog Blues,” the original Big Mama Thornton version penned by Lieber and Stoller. Equally impressive was her take on Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind (than see you walk away from me).” The band seemed to have found its groove, maintaining it after Miz Dee left with Fathead Newman’s “Hard Times” featuring Firmin on alto, Peterson on tenor and Wayne De La Cruz on organ, and Jack McDuff’s “Soulful Drums” with De La Cruz and Kent Bryson on drums. Jeff Massanari did stellar guitar work on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” along with Marlo Green on baritone sax, and Massanari took center stage for ‘Little Sam.” At that point I took early leave to catch Trombone Shorty at the Arena…and that’s when things really started smokin…
It’s hard to pinpoint what causes a crowd to ignite in pure joy and enthusiasm, but you sure know it when you see it. Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is a lithe 24 year-old from New Orleans, who plays equally well on trumpet and trombone. He’s got the basic Bayou jazz n’ blues chops, has toured with Lenny Kravitz, and calls his style “Supafunkrock.” His band is youthful – at first I thought Guitarist Pete Murano was a fill-in from the MJF Next Generation Band, but he played like a demon, tearing the place up on “Let’s Get It Started.” The show reached its peak with a couple of old crowd pleasers, the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling,” which started out featuring tenor player Tim McFatter, whose solo had the crowd rocking, at least until bassist Mike Ballard took over with what can best be described as a backward crab walk, bass riffing all the while, until he was finally surrounded by his bandmates at center stage like a beached sea turtle, never missing a note.
Trombone Shorty was leading all this on, cajoling the crowd, whaling away on the trombone, the volume amping up everywhere until you could feel the rim of your hat start to vibrate. He had one more card to play as the band lit into “When The Saints Go Marching In,” doing a spot-on Satchmo impersonation, catching the rasp and growl in his vocals and then belting out a trumpet style rich in Armstrong’s New Orleans verve. The crowd was stamping and shouting and dancing. They might easily have followed him out in one giant conga line to the Garden Stage, only there was a whole ‘nother crowd awaiting him there, as word began to leak out of the arena that something special was afoot.
DELBERT McCLINTON BAND
No one should ever have to follow Trombone Shorty. It is possible that after word of Saturday’s performance gets out, no one ever will. In his seventy years – and trust me, this guy does not look his age – Del McClinton must have seen just about everything. But there was nothing he could do, stepping into the giant crater left in Shorty’s wake. His voice is comparatively soft, kind of a bluesier Randy Newman, and his lyrics are on the ironic side, requiring a different type of attentiveness than the crowd had to offer. It took about half the set before the audience really knew he was there. It might have helped if McClinton had turned to the harmonica a little sooner, and more often. Kevin McKendree on keyboards did all he could to help, with some fine boogie blues. Eventually the smoke cleared and McClinton settled in comfortably. His “People Just Love To Talk” was one of the highlights of the day. “If you don’t know somethin’, don’t say nothin’” is advice more people should take. He finished off with “Shotgun Rider” and if it wasn’t quite up to the ovation for the act that preceded him, it was still recognition of a fine performance.
GRACE NOTES: The Berklee Global Jazz Institute Septet and Judy Roberts
With the trombone of Troy Andrews echoing from the Garden Stage, I took refuge in the Coffee House to catch a little of the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Septet. The place was packed, and not just with family and friends. The band’s most visible member, alto sax player Hailey Niswanger, is only 20, already has an album out and has played with DeeDee Bridgewater and James Moody. I managed to catch one of her own compositions, which featured some impressive improvisational flights, much to the adoration of the crowd.
Back in the picnic area, I dropped in on Judy Roberts, singing and playing on the Yamaha Avantgrand with Greg Fishman on sax. They were scheduled for seven half-hour sets over the course of the festival, and those of us who have followed Judy from Chicago (and now Phoenix) know what a treat that is. I caught the end of their set, a bright version of “Billie’s Bounce,” and vowed to return for a larger helping Sunday. While acknowledging the momentous impact Trombone Shorty has had on the festival, I’m ready to get back to the jazz side of the spectrum…though not without a timeout for some barbecued ribs and a peach cobbler with ice cream.
There are several good reasons to catch up with young vocalist Gretchen Parlato at the Night Club. Not only is she a native Angelino whose star has been rising on the East Coast, her band features former festival prodigy Taylor Eigsti on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums. Parlato has a softer-than-air voice; the easy comparison is with Astrid Gilberto, especially since Brazilian tunes have been featured on her first two albums. Her vocals seem to waft in and out of the quartet’s overall texture; the title of her last CD, In A Dream, is indicative of this style. Her first couple of songs, “Winter Wind” and Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly,” have a layered feeling, a stream of consciousness that is inviting without being New Age-y. Taylor Eigsti has plenty of room for piano improvisations, and there’s also excellent bass work from Alan Hampton.
Parlato’s only Brazilian tune of the set is Djavan’s “Flor de Lis” and it demonstrates her fluency and comfort with Brazilian music. Her reading seems crisper than in her English lyrics, where I often struggle to pick up the words. Monk’s “Ugly Beauty” is a contemplative piece which takes full advantage of Eigsti’s sensitivity. He moves over to Fender Rhodes for the cool, samba-like “On The Other Side,” which features some nice stick work by Kendrick Scott, whose solid backing permeates the set. The performance as a whole has a mystical air to it, certainly not inappropriate to the Monterey setting. But it would be nice to see at least one tune with some lyrics that connect with the listener in a more visceral way. Dreams only last so long.
One look at Kyle Eastwood’s hands and you can understand why he gravitated away from filmmaking and toward music. His long, spidery fingers seem genetically engineered for the bass, and he has three instruments with him tonight, including a small but sturdy stand-up that will find plenty of use. Eastwood has turned to film scoring as a career, and his compositions form the basis of the middle set at the Night Club. His quintet features most prominently Jim Rotundi on trumpet, a superb player we don’t see often here on the West Coast, and Jason Rigby on saxophones. The opening number finds Eastwood on his black electric bass with a supple solo to start things off, followed by Rotundi on flugelhorn and Adam Rigby on soprano sax. Rick Germanson on piano offers some deft trading of riffs with Eastwood; their interplay is effective throughout the set.
Rotundi is a joy to behold. He moves from the warm tones of the flugelhorn to the more strident trumpet for “Cosmo.” He is a strong and clear player, who often accompanies Eric Alexander in New York and was paired effectively here with Rigby. Eastwood has a sensitive touch with his compositions – you can see how he works well in the film world. “Song For You” features more work with Germanson, who moves over to the Fender Rhodes, while Eastwood plucks on his third bass, the shiny green electric one (that’s about as deep an analysis of the electric bass as you’ll get here).
The set picked up pace as it went along. Rotundi returned to flugelhorn and Eastwood to stand-up for a new composition, but the highlight was a rollicking version of “Big Noise From Winnetka” to conclude the set. Adam Rigby contributed a blazing tenor solo, Rotundi picked up from there, with drummer Joe Strasser and Eastwood wrapping it up. It was an impressive set, and it’ll be interesting to see how Eastwood divides his time between performing and film scoring. With a quintet like this, it would be good to hear more of him.
CHICK COREA FREEDOM BAND
I went back to the arena for the final set of the night, the Chick Corea Freedom Band featuring Kenny Garrett on alto, Christian McBride on bass and the ageless Roy Haynes on drums. They played an hour of mostly free improvisation, loosely structured thematically with only one recognizable tune. Like Roy Hargrove the night before, Corea spoke hardly at all, though in this case no one had trouble recognizing the soloists.
Corea sounded great, with brisk, light runs over the keyboard to begin proceedings. Kenny Garrett is a wondrous player of this type of music, his solos soared like the seagulls that circle the arena during the day. McBride and Haynes were steady influences, taking their turns at improvised riffs. Still, there is a little regret that Corea, who has contributed so many fine compositions, didn’t turn to any of them during the evening. He has devoted albums to Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk, but the only nod toward either one was the penultimate “Monk’s Dream.” It was especially effective in comparison to the rest of the set because it gave the listener something to latch on to and made the extended solos seem more daring as they danced around a recognizable line.
The final number featured Christian McBride with a terrific solo on arco bass and Roy Haynes with a multifaceted percussion solo. At 85 years old he shows not the slightest sign of slowing down, his facile control of the entire drum set matched only by his charm. You couldn’t deny the virtuosity of this quartet as the curtain came down. It’s invigorating while you listen to it, but like the proverbial Chinese dinner, when it is all over you are still hungry.
To read Michael Katz’s Day 1 review of the 53rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival click HERE.
To read Michael Katz’s Day 3 review of the 53rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival click HERE.
To see more of Michael Katz’s iRoM reviews click HERE.
Photo of Kyle Eastwood by Mandy Resendes. Photos of Trombone Shorty and Chick Corea by Tony Gieske. Other photos courtesy of the Monterey Jazz Festival.