PDX Jazz 2004
| There Was Music In The Air
The Portland Jazz Festival
February 2-8, 2004 – Portland, Oregon
By S.H. Watkins and John Thompson Mel Brown was playing with his regular Thursday night band as we walked into Jimmy Maks about 7:30. Sitting down, we noticed a skinny kid standing in, wailing away on his sax. When the set ended and the student got up, another sat in… for Mel himself! It’s a bold feat, taking the throne in the king’s palace; but he soon had the old skin master laughing and clapping as he brought his new school drumming to the stage. As the evening passed we were treated to more young performers, including a most nervous young lady with very good pitch. This unusual evening Jimmy Mak’s was hosting a student sit-in until 9:00 (that’s when the liquor laws limiting performing by minors kicked in) as part of the diverse line up of events during this wonderful week of Jazz in the Rose city.
Earlier in the week we had a chance to view a stunning and insightful collection of jazz photograph by Bruce Polansky at the Belinki and DuPrey gallery. The showing was an elegant affair with wine, cheese, smooth music by local jazz marvels N’Touch, a little poetry and a fashion show from House of Sheba. Talk about class! This was just one of the many unique Festival events like “Jazz High Tea,” “Jazz Barbecue,” and “Jazz Dim Sum”. The “Late Night Jazz on Broadway,” featured jazz along a five block stretch of Portland’s main street in six different hotels.
Then there were the headliner concerts, each musically unlike the others; each featuring world-class performers; and each situated in a venue carefully chosen to fit the performer and the audience needs. What more could you ask for?
Wayne Shorter. This Quartet wasn’t just out of sight; they were also deep as hell! We witnessed four jazz stars playing with a common cause that, though not reaching all of the audience, showed why they are at the top of their game. Shorter, as the Coach, came in with an abstract game plan that the team totally bought into and ended up coming out a winner. The group displayed amazing abilities, using space to space’s advantage and spewing sounds and emotions that we normally keep consciously hidden inside. Throughout the set they kept the audience in suspenseful anticipation, especially the often moaning and shouting drummer Brian Blade. Danilo Perez‘s accompaniment was painted with Herbie Hancock-like colors. John Patittucci showed prowess and discipline for holding the complex rhythms in place. In short, this group took over the tour bus and took us on an unexpected trip through musical expansion that was not limited to expectation. This was perhaps the best performance of the entire festival.
Tom Grant and Jenna Mammina. This dynamic duo played the late set. After Wayne Shorter finished, we had time to walk the eight or so blocks to the Doubletree and have a bit to eat in the lounge before going up to the intimately set ballroom. Jenna and Tom came out and meshed beautifully despite never having ever practiced or played together. These two great improvisers / scatologists got together with a piano, some sheet music and a lot of talent to put on a smart and sassy show. The songs were witty and cleverly delivered, Jenna songbirding in her trademark voice with Grant tickling the ivorys as only he can. The audience was appreciative of the wonderful and personal show that these two talented performers delivered this fine night.
Regina Carter stated that she was no longer a classical musician. However, due to the musical association of her instrument (Violin) and her amazing abilities the set was a marvelously presented blending of Jazz and Classical styles, with continental influences of America, Europe and Africa. Carter was as impressive in her skills as in her lack of ego, letting the band members get loose for extended time periods. Most notable was the time allowed for the percussionist. The standing ovations here were well deserved.
The Darryl Grant Quintet. In a more intimate setting the Portland State University Professor demonstrated some Hard Bop at its best, featuring monster Vibraphonist Joe Locke and one of the most impressive bass player we’ve seen in years, Ray Drummond. Mr. Drummond swang and swung and we didn’t see him break a sweat, and it was obvious who the rhythm master was. Also present was Sax player Steve Wilson with his compliment of wide ranging ideas, who was named in Downbeat Magazine as a “Talent Deserving Wider Recognition.” Grant played several originals which displayed his top rate abilities as a composer and arranger. This set could go down as the “unsung performance” of the festival. This group, which showed great skill and musicianship, should consider larger Jazz Festivals and CD releases.
Poncho Sanchez. The Bobby Torres band opened the show with a smoking set. Accompanied by a full compliment of horns and jammin’ vocalists they had the dance-floor in the Crystal bouncing and rocking. There aren’t many Latin Jazz groups that COULD follow these guys without looking second rate. However, The Poncho Sanchez Latin Band IS one of those groups. There was a short wait between sets because the mics for the horn section stopped working, but after a while the band decided that the mics weren’t really needed in the accoustically fine ballroom, and the jam began. The difference between a good performer and a master is intangible; it’s the flair, the knack for getting it right for each audience, for feeling the flow and making it grow. Now that such great Latin Jazz percussionists as Tito Puents, Cal Tjader and Mongo Santamaria are gone, Poncho Sanchez is the reigning master of Latin Jazz. Throughout the set Sanchez controlled the flow with his percussion and direction. Special mention to his horns who kept it Tower-of-Power tight… you never even noticed the missing microphones. For more photos from the Poncho Sanchez concert visit the Shooting Gallery.
Gary Burton. This was one for the eclectic crowd: Vibeist extraordinaire Gary Burton and piano jazz improvisationist Makoto Ozone. The talent was supreme, but the approach was more in the vein of chamber music. If you appreciate the subtleties and nuances of improvisational jazz, this was the place to be as the two pros showed their chops. If you like your improv with a dash of spice, then Wayne Shorter or Poncho Sanchez were your choice selections.
Finally we need to give mention to the festival staff, all of whom were top-notched, professional folks. Special kudos (again) to Festival Executive Director Bill Royston, Managing Director Sarah Balen-Smith and all the rest of the warm and friendly workers; the courtesies that they extended to all of the patrons should not go unnoticed. To the door and ticket personnel, we say thank you! To the organizers, we say hire them for years to come, with a raise!! And to those unfortunate people that missed out on this exciting and wonderful jazz experience we say learn from your mistakes and make plans to be there next year.
For information on the PDXJazz annual event visit their website at Http://pdxjazz.com.