August 14, 2011
Author: Ken Laster
This year's festival stayed true to George Wein's vision of featuring the best of today's jazz scene with its wide array of styles and cultural influences. The lineup included well know artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Grammy winner Esperanza Spalding, extraordinary pianist Hiromi and others. There were also musicians from around the world like African artist Angelique Kidjo, Puerto Rican sax player Miguel Zenon, and Indian tabla master Zakir Hussein (with jazz legend Charles Lloyd). New lesser known artists like Ambrose Akinmusire and John Hollenbeck got their chance to showcase new music. The music styles ranged from traditional jazz, to world music to the avant garde.
The festival takes place at Fort Adams Park in Newport RI and consists of 3 separate stages with music playing simultaneously, 5 sets throughout the day on each stage for two musical filled days. Do the math and its 5 shows x 3 stages x 2 days or 30 concerts. You can either run from stage to stage catching parts of each show and seeing as many different artists as possible, or park yourself at a performance and enjoy the entire concert but perhaps miss another great act going on at a different stage. This year's festival presented quite a problem with many great artists performing simultaneously, presenting some real dilemmas choosing who to see at the expense of missing some great groups.
Some of the best shows were by artists I knew little about prior to seeing them at Newport. Ambrose Akinmusire Quintet gave an exciting performance of modern compositions featuring Ambrose playing some intense trumpet and Water Smith III on sax. They were an explosive ensemble that could play tight or beautiful passages and then propel themselves into outer space. NPR posted a video of part of the performance.
Avishai Cohen's Triveni was a trio with the leader on trumpet, Drew Gress on bass and Eric Harland on drums. This fiery trio really could swing with a modern often funky kind of jazz that was totally engaging. Avishai showed some great chops on the horn. They were joined by clarinetist Anat Cohen (Avishai's sister) for the last two numbers which really had the group wailing. NPR captured video and audio here.
Unfortunately monsoon like rains on Sunday caused us to miss Joshua Redman's James Farm and the Mingus Big Band, but settling in under the tent on the Quad Stage gave us the opportunity to see the creative out of the ordinary arrangements of the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble. This group featured pianist Uri Caine and vocalists Theo Blackmann and Kate McGarry.
For me, the highlight of the event was Charles Lloyd Sangam trio with tabla master Zakir Hussein and drummer Eric Harland. Charles Lloyd's legendary playing on saxes and flute fused with an eastern indian influence was a beautiful and insperational experience. Zakir is a master of his instruments, both the tabla and many hand drums. Eric Harland appeared with many bands at this year's festival, but his performance here was amazing, particularly with his empathetic interaction with Zakir's percussion. Harland and Lloyd also played piano and small percussion throughout the show. NPR recorded the set for your listening pleasure.
These were just some of my favorite shows at the festival, but there was so much more that stood out as exceptional performances. We really enjoyed Steve Coleman's Five Elements, Hiromi's Trio (with Anthony Jackson bass, Simon Philips drums), Regina Carter and Rudresh Mahanthappa with Bunky Green. There was a memorable free blowing jam session with Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane and Miguel Zenon. I even enjoyed rocking out with Trombone Shorty as the finale on the main Fort Stage.
You can view my entire photo gallery here.
Much more content including recordings of many of the performances and video can be found at NPR's coverage of the Newport Jazz Festival.
Ken Laster with Esperanza Spalding
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