The weather was postcard-perfect at this weekend's Clearwater Jazz Holiday -- largely sunny, beautiful days (with the exception of a quick shower on Saturday) and breezy nights.
Even better, I had the opportunity to enjoy several sets of high-grade jazz, including impressive performances by locally based artists - singer-pianist Karen Benjey, with a drum-less group including tenor saxophonist George Allgaier, guitarist LaRue Nickelson and bassist Glenn Stevenson; Drummer Kenny Loomer's hard-swinging big band; and the neo-swing/blues/boogie act The Venturas.
The national acts:
B3 organ wizard Joey DeFrancesco, with legendary drummer Idris Muhammad and guitarist Paul Bollenback, burned through a set that included Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman"; the standard "Body and Soul," a feature for Bollenback; and "My Favorite Things." DeFrancesco also was impressive on muted trumpet, which he brought out during a ballad.
Eldar Djangirov, the 21-year-old onetime child prodigy from the former Soviet Union, was joined by six-string electric bassist Armando Gola and drummer Justin Brown for a set of densely textured, high-intensity music marked by lightning-fast lines that were sometimes reminiscent of Chick Corea. Tenor saxophonist Felipe Lamoglia made a sharp impression on "Blue Sketch en Clave" and other pieces.
The Brubeck Brothers Quartet, with Dave's sons Chris on electric bass and trombone, and Dan on drums, demonstrated a penchant for tricky time signatures - "Seventh Sense," in 7/4 and two 5/4 pieces, including "Take Five" - and sophisticated group interplay on moody ballad "Cool on the Coast" and the Monk-ish "Bullwinkle's Revenge." The group was rounded out by guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb.
Grace Kelly, making her debut appearance in Florida (a coup for the Clearwater Jazz Holiday), lived up to the hype: At just 16 years old, the alto saxophonist from Massachusetts has already developed tremendous chops and a high level of musicality, and she's a promising singer, too. Backed by a piano trio and joined by gifted trumpeter Jason Palmer, she charmed the crowd with a set that included standards "I'll Remember April" and "It Might as Well Be Spring," clever re-arrangements of the Gershwins' "Summertime" and Bill Withers hit "Ain't No Shine," and several impressive originals. Kelly, headed to Berklee College of Music next all, clearly is a jazz star in the making.
Joe Sample, whose recordings tend to lean toward smooth fare, surprisingly offered nicely grooving, bluesy acoustic jazz, with his son Nick on upright bass and great New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich. The trio's set included a slow-burning version of Crusaders hit "Street Life"; "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You"; "Hipping the Hop"; and "Soulful Creole," which he said was written "in honor of my two favorite two Creoles - Louis Armstrong and my mom." Sample also played his tune "Hippies on the Corner," and reminisced about his days in San Francisco, playing at the Jazz Workshop.
Stefon Harris and Blackout had the acclaimed vibraphonist joined by a new crew of young players - alto saxophonist Jaleel Shaw, pianist Logan Thomas (his first performance w/ the group), bassist Earl Travis, and drummer Obed Calver. The quintet offered heady New York-style modern jazz, with plenty of provocative rhythmic interplay, on originals including "Blackout" and "Black Action Figure," and a trick-out "Summertime."