June 17, 2024

Rejuvenated Affair Dazzles
Mt. Hood Jazz Festival
by Dick Bogle

Mt. Hood Jazz 2001 The 20th anniversary Mt. Hood Jazz Festival last weekend took a giant step in restoring its credibility with mainstream jazz fans. The three-day event, held on the football field of Mt. Hood Community College, was pleasantly diverse but stayed straight ahead for the most part.

Trombonist Steve Turre and his band were a big time hit on the mid-sized Xeta stage. The potent quintet of pianist George Cables, bassist Buster Williams, drummer Dion Parsons and last-minute addition, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, wowed the audience. Alexander, who cut his jazz teeth working with organist Charles Earland, was brilliant with never-ceasing fresh ideas flowing from his horn and delivered with his big, full tone.

Turre was exquisite on his other instrument, conch shells. He played five of the shells, each of a different size and with varying tones on “All Blues” to the whistling, screaming delight of the sun-drenched crowd.

However, sometimes even groups with great musicians can disappoint. Such was the case of the Joey De Francesco-Pat Martino Quartet, with Alexander and drummer Byron Landham. The musicianship was excellent but the program didn’t possess the grit or soul listeners expect from De Francesco.

Plenty of work for resident jazz artists too. Trumpeter Thara Memory had his Superband on the Xeta stage noon Saturday for a funk exercise with vocalist Marilyn Keller out front. Trumpeter Paul Mazzio had a band with pianist Tony Pacini, bassist Ed Bennet and drummer Ron Steen on the same stage on Sunday. Pianist Tom Grant played three sets on Friday and Darrell Grant’s piano blended nicely with Joe Locke’s vibes.

Jazz diva Dianne Reeves — backed by a small group of her own players and a large orchestra comprised of local artists and conducted by John Newton — left an indelible mark describing everything a singer could and should be. Her program featured songs from her Sarah Vaughan tribute CD, “The Calling.” So blessed with talent is Ms. Reeves, had her and Sarah Vaughan’s birthdates been reversed, Vaughan would likely have recorded a Dianne Reeves tribute.

A Sunday treat was the performance of saxophonist-flautist-vocalist James Moody. He played and sang his patented “Moody’s Mood For Love” and had the audience in stitches with his humorous “Bennies From Heaven.”

The Sunday night closing act, the Roy Hargrove Quintet, brought the festival to a rousing conclusion with Hargrove switching back and forth between trumpet and flugelhorn. He enthralled the audience with the latter on “Nature Boy” and “Never Let Me Go.”

Most spectators called this year’s festival an improvement. Jazz journalist and deejay Eugene Rashad said this festival went a long way to restoring its identity. He said he particularly liked steel drummer Andy Narell’s set.

Portland resident Gail Johnson said she came back because of the lineup with her personal favorites, Roy Hargrove, Dr. Billy Taylor, Ramsey Lewis and Joshua Redman. Another attendee said he thought this year’s event was neck-and-neck with last year’s. He also said he missed blues night and thought there was too much restrictive security at the event.

Former Book Store owner O.B. Hill found out Dr. Billy Taylor was to appear, he said, “No way am I going to miss him.” Los Angeles resident Richelle Lewellyn said she particularly enjoyed the Steve Turre band with one reason being the trombone is such an uncommon lead instrument. She also appreciates Turre giving conch shells a strong presence in jazz. She called this year’s festival “a great improvement,” and rated it a 9.5 of a possible 10.

Former Jazz Society Of Oregon president Leroy Cameron said George Cables, Buster Williams and Carl Allen turned in a “heart-stopping” version of “Emily.” He also said jazz — the original American art form — must be recognized as such and preserved. He feels it should be subsidized much like a symphony or ballet.

Subsidized or not, the Mt. Hood Festival ship has been righted. What remains is getting the word out and more folks in the seats.

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