Thursday, October 18, 2007

Clearwater Jazz Holiday: MMW, Arturo Sandoval, Lynne Arriale, Brian Bromberg, Hendrik Meurkens, Jazz Surge

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday gets started tonight. Here's the super-size (unedited) version of the story that appears today in the St. Petersburg Times.

The 28th annual edition of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, the major event on the Tampa Bay area’s jazz calendar, looks a little different than earlier incarnations of the festival.

Smooth jazz doesn’t dominate the lineup quite as much as in the past, and this year’s bill doesn’t include any major blues acts or New Orleans artists.

Instead, the festival is playing host to two headliners with big name recognition, George Benson tonight and closing act Natalie Cole, both making their Jazz Holiday debuts.

And for the first time a nationally known jam band – popular touring act Medeski Martin Wood – is playing the fest, with a headlining spot on Saturday. It will be interesting to see if younger listeners gravitate to MMW and, say, are turned on by the fiery brand of Afro-Cuban jazz played by trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, slated to perform earlier that evening.

“Of all the different offshoots (of jazz) that the festival has had from time, it is a nice direction for the festival to stretch in,” Bob Seymour, longtime jazz director at WUSF-FM 89.7 FM and a frequent onstage announcer at the Jazz Holiday, said about the inclusion of MMW. “I’m looking forward to seeing how they do as headliners. It’s a big slot to fill, following Arturo Sandoval.”

Overall, this year’s Jazz Holiday offers “one of the better lineups in recent years,” said Seymour, who points to Sandoval, vibraphonist/harmonic player Hendrik Meurkens, pianist Lynne Arriale, Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge and bassist Brian Bromberg as among the artists he’s most excited about hearing.

The festival’s diversity, too, reflects organizers’ support of a fairly wide range of jazz, and goes along with Arriale’s notion about the limitless musical possibilities open for exploration in her chosen genre.

At 25, when the classically trained pianist decided to pursue jazz, she was intrigued by the wide-open nature of jazz. “I felt like there were no boundaries to how we could express ourselves in this music,” says Arriale, who lived in the Tampa Bay area before relocating to Jacksonville this fall to accept a faculty position at the University of North Florida. She brings her highly interactive trio to the Jazz Holiday on Sunday afternoon.

6 to 7:30 p.m. – U.S. Air Force Academy Falconaires. This year’s military group on the Jazz Holiday bill is an 18-piece big band based at the Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The group regularly tours the country, bringing its mix of ‘40s-era swing classics and contemporary large-ensemble pieces to festivals, concert halls, music conferences, colleges and schools.

8 to 10 p.m. – George Benson. The jazz-rooted guitarist made his commercial breakthrough with 1976’s now-classic “Breezin’ ” album, and his chart-topping, Grammy-winning cover of Leon Russell’s “This Masquerade.”

What accounted for that phenomenal crossover success? He slowed down his fretwork. “When Breezin’ came out, everything made sense” he told Blaise Lantana in an interview last year for Phoenix radio station KJZZ. “I told stories. I wasn’t trying to prove anything. And I waited – something I never would have did years ago. I would have filled that hole up with a thousand notes.”

Benson, once revered for his Wes Montgomery-influenced guitar playing, transformed himself into a smooth jazz/R&B singing superstar, cranking out hit singles including “Give Me the Night,” “Turn Your Love Around,” “The Greatest Love of All” and “Never Give Up on a Good Thing.”

“Breezin” ’s title track was updated on last year’s “Givin’ It Up,” a middling collaboration with Al Jarreau that also features guest shots by Paul McCartney, Jill Scott and Patti Austin; a new album is due next summer. Benson, backed by his regular five-piece touring band, for his first time at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday is guaranteed to sing “all the hits,” according to his manager’s rep. With any luck, he’ll play that six-string, too.

5 to 6:15 p.m. – Ray & Friends. Clearwater businessman and jazz enthusiast Ray Biscoglia, regularly heard tickling the ivories at Feather Sound restaurant CafĂ© Ponte, for this appearance plays with several well-known area musicians – pianist/singer Karen Benjay, who recently released her second CD; tenor saxophonist George Allgaier; flutist Linda Nash; and bassist Glenn Stevenson

6:45 to 8:15 p.m. = Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge, with special guests Mike Mainieri and Adam Nussbaum. Owen, longtime jazz studies professor at the University of South Florida and president of the International Association for Jazz Education, leads the 17-piece professional resident orchestra of USF’s Center for Jazz Composition in a program devoted to the music of late saxophone giant Michael Brecker.

The Jazz Surge, fresh from a final recording session on its fourth CD, a Brecker tribute, at Morrisound, is joined by some of the fest’s highest-caliber artists: Vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, played together with Brecker in Steps Ahead, and has recorded or toured with everyone from saxophonists Joe Lovano and Joe Henderson to pop stars James Taylor and Paul Simon; drummer Nussbaum has worked with Brecker, Dave Liebman, John Scofield and singer Patricia Barber; and unannounced guest trumpeter Randy Brecker (Blood, Sweat & Tears) worked with his brother in the Brecker Brothers Band.

8:45 to 11 p.m. – Norman Brown featuring Peabo Bryson, Jeff Lorber and Marion Meadows. This year’s edition of the guitarist/singer’s “Summer Storm” tour, in support of his new Billboard chart-topping “Stay With Me” CD, is a group of smooth-jazz superstars. Joining Brown for the laidback groove making and sweet melodies are soulful singer Peabo Bryson (the just-released “Missing You” CD); veteran keyboardist Jeff Lorber, an architect of the smooth-jazz genre; and likeminded saxophonist Marion Meadows.
OPTIONAL EDIT START The title of Brown’s CD is a mash note to supporters, he has said: “I wanted to send a message to my fans: Stick around – it’s getting better and there’s a lot here for you.” OPTIONAL EDIT END

3:45 to 5 p.m. – Michael Ross Quartet. Ross, a gifted Tampa acoustic bassist, leads one of Florida’s best and longest-running jazz groups. The hard-hitting ensemble’s dynamic original compositions, written by Ross and guitarist LaRue Nickelson (of USF’s jazz faculty), draw from bebop, funk and fusion, as heard on the band’s three CDs, including “Year of the Dog.” The quartet, together since 1999, also features tenor saxophonist David Pate and drummer Walt Hubbard.

5:30 to 6:45 p.m. – Brian Bromberg’s Downright Upright Band featuring Randy Brecker, Mitchel Forman, Gary Meek and Dave Weckl. Bromberg, a virtuoso bassist whose slambang solos amount to show-stopping mini-concerts, mixes acoustic jazz textures and smooth grooves on his new “Downright Upright” CD, which includes fresh updates of jazz favorites “Cantaloupe Island,” “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and “Chameleon.”

“On ‘Downright Upright’ my goal was to make a live jazz recording that was all acoustic bass and very traditional in approach, but was not a straight- ahead walking bass kind of jazz,” Bromberg says. “I love funky groove tunes from the 60’s and 70’s and thought it would be great to do a CD in that vibe but to do it organically with acoustic instruments.”

And about his unique approach to the bass: “I love the instrument and I love to push boundaries as far as I can within my ability,” he says. “I look at myself as a modern player with my feet firmly planted in the foundation of the past and the basics of the instrument. I love walking both sides of the line when it comes to playing the bass between the old and the new. I always play real traditional parts when I am playing the groove and behind other soloists, but when it is my turn to solo is when I really try to sing my song and tell a story. That would be when the more modern side of my bass playing comes through.”

Expect fireworks from Bromberg, joined for this show by saxophonist Meek, also on “Downright Upright” and a regular with Brazil’s Flora Purim and Airto Moreira; trumpeter Randy Brecker; pianist Mitchel Forman (John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Stan Getz); and drummer Dave Weckl (Chick Corea’s Elektric and Akoustic bands; Mike Stern).

7:15 to 8:45 p.m. – Arturo Sandoval. Few jazz musicians give performances as electrifying as Sandoval, the Cuban-born trumpeter, percussionist, pianist and, in recent years, nightclub owner; his much-anticipated Afro-Cuban jazz explosion at this year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was a highlight of that fest.

Sandoval’s recently released “Rumba Palace” CD, named for his Miami Beach nightspot, has the former Irakere member mingling rippling horn runs with sticky rumba rhythms, the sing-song chanting of his homeland, speedy bebop riffs and brassy big-band blasts. Saxophonist Felipe Lamoglia, bassist Armando Gola and drummer and percussionist Alexis Arce – heard on Rumba Palace -- will join Sandoval, along with pianist Dave Siegel and percussionist Philbert Armenteros.

9:15 to 10:45 p.m. – Medeski Martin and Wood. Keyboardist/organist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Christ Wood, easily the most creative and exciting of the bands on the jazzy tip of the jamband spectrum, began playing together in Brooklyn 16 years ago, when they released their debut disc, “Notes From the Underground.” MMW since has taken its idiosyncratic mix of jazz, funk, fusion, psychedelia and experimental sounds all over the world, along the way grabbing critical acclaim and picking up a dedicated following.

On any given set, the band is likely to attach a Thelonious Monk tune to a Bob Marley song – like “Bemsha Swing”/“Lively Up Yourself” on 1993’s “It’s a Jungle in Here” CD -- or subject the likes of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” and Jimi Hendrix hit “Hey, Joe” to radical reinvention. Last year’s “Out Louder” was MMW’s second collaboration with guitarist John Scofield; over the years, the trio has collaborated with turntablists, DJs, spoken-word artists and Downtown New York instrumentalists.

MMW is the most musically innovative act ever to play the Jazz Holiday, and a real coup for the festival. Expect deep, infectious grooves, inventive solos and a dose or two of freak-out electronic noises.

1:45 to 2:30 p.m. – The Ruth Eckerd Hall/Clearwater Jazz Holiday Jazz Youth Band. The band, a regular at the festival, includes some of the Tampa area’s finest young talents.

3 to 4:15 p.m. – Hendrik Meurkens Samba Jazz Quartet. Meurkens, a German-born vibraphonist and harmonica player, plays some of the most exquisite Brazilian jazz around, as demonstrated on his superb recent CD, “New York Samba Jazz Quintet.” Meurkens, based in New York, may be familiar to Tampa Bay area audiences via his work with the late Manfredo Fest. He’ll be joined by pianist Helio Alves, bassist Gustavo Amarante and drummer Adriano Santos.

4:45 to 6 p.m. – Lynne Arriale Trio featuring Thomson Kneeland and Steve Davis. Arriale, longtime drummer (and USF jazz faculty member) Steve Davis and bassist Thomson Kneeland play a particularly interactive brand of piano-trio jazz, as typified by last year’s DVD/CD set “Live.”

The group’s musical approach has been influenced by pianist Keith Jarrett’s trio, as well as bands led by Thelonious Monk and Herbie Hancock, among others, Arriale says.

“Over the years we’ve developed a language that’s very special. We hook in the minute we play. There’s a special kind of communication that develops. There’s definitely a conversation going on between the three instruments.”

The group’s rangy repertoire – New Orleans standard “Iko Iko,” Monk’s “Bemsha Swing,” Miles Davis’s “Seven Steps to Heaven,” Luiz Bonfa’s “Braziliana” and the Beatles’ “Come Together” are heard on “Live” – reflects the diversity of influences at work in Arriale’s compositions, she says.

“It’s straight-ahead (jazz), but there are so many other influences. There’s Brazilian music. And in my writing, there’s a certainly a world/folk music influence. I’ve been influenced by Celtic music. I’m interested in the simplicity of beautiful melodies. Melody is what reaches us, and what we remember.”

6:30 to 8 p.m. – Joe Gransden. The Atlanta-based trumpeter, a veteran of swing bands as well as pop tours, played with the likes of Toshiko Akiyoshi and Chico O’Farill in New York. For his latest CD, “Plays & Sings,” he’s joined by Earl Klugh, Rene Marie, Russell Gunn and a 15-piece string orchestra.

8:30 to 10 p.m. – Natalie Cole. The daughter of Nat “King” Cole scored R&B and pop hits in the ‘70s and ‘80s – “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love,” “I’ve Got Love on My Mind,” “Jump Start,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” – before tapping into her father’s legacy for 1991’s “Unforgettable … with Love” album, which went platinum five times over. That disc’s once omnipresent title track was a duet with her father, a miracle made possible by recording technology. Her 20th studio recording, last year’s “Leavin’,” features covers of tunes by Sting, Fiona Apple, Kate Bush Shelby Lynne and others.

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