Newport Jazz – Live 2007

by Matthew Robinson
Our roving writer spent some time at the Newport Jazz Festival taking in the music and ambiance so he could report his take on some of the live jazz…

Dave Brubeck – Aug. 11, 2007
While he may be a little gruffer and slower of speech, when 86-year-old Dave Brubeck sat down at his piano, it was classic Newport come back to life! From a retro “St. Louis Blues” played in its original tango form to a nominally-rhythmed tribute to “Ma-ri-an-Mc-Part-land” to the Polish paen to Chopin called (in translation) “Thank You” to the very “Unsquare Dance” (a celebration in 7/8 that featured overstretched sax climbs and further tempo stretches by Brubeck’s skin-playing son Daniel), Brubeck and his musical family continued to demonstrate their masterful command of non-traditional time signatures and internationally crowd-pleasing chestunuts. And when they closed with the gentle nursery swing of the Disney classic “Someday My Prince Will Come,” they made the assembled jazz lovers’ musical dreams come true.

Marcus Miller – Aug. 12, 2007
With the crash of cymbals ad tuning horns replicating the sounds coming from the other side of the Navy base-turned-music venue, bass-master Marcus Miller announced his delayed arrival. After blasting into his latest composition “Blast” – a series of furious low-end rumbles interrupted by a blaring brass theme and a synthesized vocal “chorus” – Miller revisited the thumpy Miles Davis classic “Jean Pierce” with four strings instead of three valves. While Miller’s speaker system sank midstream, it returned with more than full force in time for a blubbery bass solo and some trading eights with 70’s-style synthesizers. “Panther” came across as a tribal Bond theme overlaid with urban smooth jazz horns and a solo from Miller that was as alive as Peter Frampton. After an amp-challenged attempt at “When I Fall in Love,” Miller closed the amplifier-abbreviated set with a take on The Beatles’ “Come Together” that, while impressive, was greatly repetitious and somewhat safe, especially considering what he had shown he could do even when the microphone was off.

Susan Tedeschi – Aug. 12, 2007
Among sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and husband Derek Trucks, local girl Susan Tedeschi revealed her own unique voice- a voice that swung from the cute and reserved intermezzo to the guitar-crunching growl for which she has become famous. Rallying the sun-baked crowd with the hopeful hominy harmonies of “We Can Make It If We Try,” Susan Tedeschi followed a struttin” bass into a gritty version of “The Way I Feel” before digging even deeper for a dirty roadhouse rendition of “Soul of a Man.” Paying tribute to musical hero Koko Taylor through a wah-washed and Lesley-spun take on “VooDoo Woman.” Though “Security” was up, “Wait for Me” brought the mood down into the realm of the Blues and almost into full-fledged prayer, making it an appropriate lead-in to the organ-ic revival of “Thankful” (a perky two-step that she wrote with Trucks). With all the changes in tone and tempo, Tedeschi offered a variety of sounds and musical flavors. And by the time she ripped into “It Hurst So Bad,” Tedeschi had shown everything she had and left it all on the stage for the roaring crowd to enjoy.

The Rev. Al Green – Aug. 12, 2007
“I wanna come out there!” cried the Reverend from his vaulted dais over the two fences that separated him from his adoring and appreciative fans. And though he was unable to physically touch them, his famous words and nearly equally famous smile reached out all the way to the ocean. Dressed in a black tuxedo with white gloves and a bouquet of roses that he lovingly distributed to some lucky ladies in the front rows, living legend Al Green offered a rapturous set full of 70’s Pop, eternal Gospel and never ending joy. From the hopefully predictive “Just Can’t Stop” to the sincerely delivered long-distance proposal “Let’s Get Married” to an appropriately weary “Tired of Being Alone” that hit all the HI notes, to a spiritual rendition of “He’s Comin’ Back” that literally had the Reverend on his knees, the impressively limber Green and his tight band kept the seaside crowd up and dancing from beginning to end. Taking a break from their communal smile, the audience joined Green for a whispery sing along of “Amazing Grace” that bridged the gap over the fences all the more intimately. After a shivery take on “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart” and a pleading (and crowd-pleasing) “Let’s Stay Together,” Green took it up and notch with with a fiery, funky, and fast “Here I Am, Baby” before reaching back for a cut-up medley that included Motown hits “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch” and “My Girl,” and a fully-realized “What a Wonderful World.” And with the Rev. Al Green in it, it is indeed!
©2007 Matthew S. Robinson