Wednesday, August 15, 2007

San Jose Jazz Festival Review

The new highway certainly makes travel to the South Bay faster; no longer do the lanes drop to two when one gets to Dixon Landing, so despite leaving late then having to go back home for my camera, I arrived in San Jose in under an hour, which was great because I wanted to hear the United Alto Summit with host Red Holloway, featuring Frank Morgan, Charles McPherson and the much younger Greg Osby. They were awesome and so was the fabulous rhythm section with drummer, Jerome E. Jennings, bassist, Corcoran Holt and pianist Luke O'Rielly. When I walked in Frank Morgan was soloing on "All the Things," followed by McPherson’s lovely wistful "Body and Soul." Greg Osby was featured on "Ash," and the band went out on "Blues and Boogie," which was an opportunity for the drummer to strut his stuff. The rhythm section was impressive and it was the first time they’d played with these awesome cats, so it was as special for them as it was for us. I also found out that Red Holloway is a Gemini, May 31, like me. He’s 80 now, a milestone he’s celebrating all year.

Lee Ritenour and Friends featuring Alex Acuña, Patrice Rushen, and Brian Bromberg, were good, their set unique as they shifted between hot and smooth R&B tinted jazz on Memeza from Smoke-N-Mirrors, Boss City, Lil Bumpin, Party Time, 4 ½, Water’s Edge—a cool Forget Me Nots, featuring Rushen on vocals, and the closing Herbie Hancock classic, Cantaloupe Island.

Ritenour was the perfect party host spending time with all his friends, trading licks and occasionally smiling before responding to a member of the group. He was all over the stage, often in close proximity to the musician he wanted to speak musicially to in any particular moment. One of his favorite spots was at the piano with Rushen “baby fingers.” He also jammed frequently with Acuña on drumset and cajón. He and Brian Bromberg were a great foil for one another--the dueling strings picked up by Rushen on piano, her chords often matching theirs.

Considering the huge stage that separated the four musicians, the ambient sounds unavoidable at an outdoor concert, it was amazing how intimate the set felt, quite unlike the big band stylings of the weekend closing event: The Latin All Starts: A Tribute to Hilton Ruiz featuring Jimmy Bosch, Stave Berrios, emcee Ray Vega, Yunior Cabrera, Arturo O’Farrill, and Juan Escovedo.

Ritenour and Friends are at Yoshi’s Thursday-Sunday, August 16-19. Visit or (510) 238-9200.

Pete Escovedo was recovering from surgery and wasn’t able to make the Ruiz tribute, the first concert he’d ever missed in 50 years. I didn’t catch the name of the timbalist who replaced him. He was really good too; however, Bill Summers who performed the day before with his Headhunters was awesome on chekere and other percussions, especially when he sang a song only Yunior could follow which preceded the entrance of special guest Armando Peraza, the legendary Afro-Cuban percussionist who was sought after when he arrived in New York in 1948 on the bebop and Latin jazz scene.

Ray Vega was so funny as he teased the Puerto Rican fans in the audience sporting their flags and tee-shirts. A man near me has these really cool maracas in the red, blue and white Puerto Rican colors with autographs from famous percussionists. Puerto Rican composer, Don Pedro Flores’ "Obsession"--(the thing) that gets you put in jail, Vega joked as he pronounced the title in a lilting and tempting Spanish.

It was here that my memory cards were both full so I returned to my seat and watched my friends capture the shots I wanted. I took notes so I could ask for copies. Ray Vega could really blow that trumpet. Photographer, Kamau Amen Ra told me he’d seen Vega the day before on the Latin stage, and the musician was awesome during that set too. As the sun began its retreat, Yunior Cabrera Terry continued to demonstrate his commanding presence as his bass was both a string and percussive member of the ensemble. One of the songs performed was one of his originals.

Everyone kind of went wild on "Obsession." Juan Escovedo solo was strong as he traded some killin’ licks with the timbalist. It got so hot Bocsh came back with a swinging response to his friends as he boogalooed in front of the microphone, horn reaching skyward. When Vega came up for air he asked the audience: “Did you like that? We’ve given you a whole lot of Latin, now some jazz.”

It was a perfect segue into the quieter Ruiz favorite “What’s New.” The evening closed with Coltrane’s mellow Afro-Blue, with Baba Bill Summers and Yunior Cabrera Terry doing the African call and response. By the time the special guest Armando Peraza hit the stage, O’Farrill was killin’ on piano. (I was so happy I’d seen him with the Afro-Latin All Stars from Lincoln Center last year at Davies where he was also remarkable.) Jimmy Bosch was the mystery man, dark shades and serious demeanor belying a serious groove he kept laying down as he danced and played. I’d never seen a trombonist do the limbo before that afternoon. Bosch was too cool and I’m happy to say he’ll be back with Anthony Blea y su Charanga in the North Bay August 30 at Karribean City, 1408 Webster Street, Oakland, (510) 251-0769. Visit there’s free parking at this 21+ with ID event. Fito Reinoso with Ritmo y Armonia is on August 23.

What is great about the SJJF is its eclectic appeal. Certainly for presenting forums with an educational policy, like San Jose Jazz Society and Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco, and the former Koncepts Cultural Gallery in Oakland, the goal was and continued to be audience development, to grow audiences. What better way to do this than by appealing to a variety of pallets simultaneously. It’s similar to what maestro Michael Morgan does at the Oakland East Bay Symphony. He has an orchestra that even plays jazz, which is not a stretch when one remembers that the music one calls classical, whether that is American classical, "jazz," or European classical, it was all, at one time dance music. People who talk about how they don’t like smooth jazz or Afro-Latin jazz, or hip-hop jazz, are trying to pigeonhole the definition which is fluid. It’s all black music, it’s organic, it’s alive and like all art forms, it reflects the content of its artists and their audiences. Life is mutable. Change is the only constant, so, as long as the music is honest and real and stays connected to its origins, that is, these innovators know where the music came from and don’t abort its African American ancestry; I don’t think it can go wrong. Well yes, I can. What would be wrong would be a situation where the direct descendents of this great art form, jazz music, don’t get to hear the music, play it, or see themselves reflected in the artists’ performing it. Jazz education is a great tax deductible contribution to people like Rhonda Benin, Khalil Shaheed, Angela Wellman, Raymond Nat Turner, Ronnie Stewart at Bay Area Blues Society, E.W. Wainwright, Tacuma King and Tarika Lewis. All these artists and others are teaching black children about music and its connection to African Diaspora heritage.


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