Monday, October 29, 2007

Clearwater Jazz Holiday (Redux)

(as promised, more about last weekend's fest).

This year's Clearwater Jazz Holiday scored an attendance of about 60,000, according to one estimate.

I'm guessing that a large percentage of that turnout was represented by the crowd that showed up for Thursday night's kick-off, topped by George Benson -- still not sure yet how many folks, regular jazzfest attenders and jamband kids, showed up for Saturday night's set by Medeski Martin and Wood.

Benson, one of two household names on the fest (along with Natalie Cole), as promised turned in all of his big hits.

Benson brought along his regular, touring R&B/pop band (as opposed to any of the straight-ahead jazz groups he puts together on occasion). And yet, he still managed to show off the great jazz guitar playing for which he first made his name, before he discovered how to put those amazing, soulful pipes to good use (yes, I know he sang first, but his initial fame came through his six-string). Nice to Benson wail and/or sing on "Breezin'," "Affirmation," "On Broadway" and "This Masquerade."

I missed the first portion of Friday night's set by Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge (and, also, the set by pianist Ray Biscoglia's group, with saxophonist George Allgaier and others; heard good things about that performance).

After a delay caused by a rainshower, the Jazz Surge returned to the stage, with trumpeter Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Mike Mainieri and drummer Adam Nussbaum in tow. The Surge, as usual, turned in a set marked by challenging arrangements, tight, taut ensemble work and high-wire improvisations. The program included the Michael Brecker compositions "Sumo"; "Straphanger," featuring terrific solos by Brecker, and alto saxophonists Valerie Gillespie and Tammy Danielsson; and "Take a Walk," written for the old Steps Ahead band, a great showcase for duelling tenor saxophonists Jack Wilkins and Rex Wertz.

Saturday's lineup (see below post) opened with a set of edgy modern jazz by long-running Tampa band the Michael Ross Quartet. Ross's "Scared and Profane" allied a pretty, slinky melody, played by tenor saxophonist David Pate to a hard-digging medium jazz groove, with guitarist LaRue Nickelson turning in a wide-open rangy solo and Pate doing a bit of fire breathing before the piece whispered to a close. The MRQ also played tunes titled (I think) "Things I Have Lost," "Dark Water," "Low" and "Ed's Tune."

Impressive performances, too, on Sunday, beginning with a set by vibraphonist/harmonica player Hendrik Meurkens' Samba Jazz Quartet, with pianist Helio Alves, bassist Gustavo Amarante and drummer Adriano Santos.

The bossa nova and samba grooves were impeccable -- no surprise, with that rhythm section of Brazilian-born jazz players -- on a set devoted to late pianist/composer Manfredo Fest, who lived in the Tampa Bay area during the latter part of his career. By the way, the Tampa Jazz Club is presenting a tribute to Manfredo, featuring guitarist Phil Fest, Manfredo's son, on Nov. 18 at the Gorilla Theater in Tampa.

Meurkens demonstrated superb chops and a nonstop supply of improvisational ideas during his playing on pieces including Jobim's "A Felicidade," Meurkens' "Sambatropolis" (from his forthcoming new CD, due Jan. 8 on the Zoho label, with guest tenor saxophonist Jed Levy) and the jazz standards "I Can't Get Started" and "One Day My Prince Will Come," which seqgued into "Bluesette." That last tune, of course, was penned by Toots Thielemans, the guy who esentially invented the wheel,when it comes to jazz harmonica.

It was great to finally get a chance to hear pianist Lynne Arriale's superb trio, with Steve Davis on drums and Thomson Kneeland on bass.

The band turned in compelling versions of Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile"; Monk's "Bemsha Swing," nicely deconstructed and reassembled; the Beatles' "Come Together"; Miles' "Seven Steps to Heaven" and Abdullah Ibrahim's "Mountains of the Night." The trio's latest release is an impressive CD/DVD set, titled Lynne Arriale Trio Live.

Next year's Clearwater Jazz Holiday is set for Oct. 16-19. Mark your calendars.

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