Every time I've gone to the Newport Jazz Festival, I've made some new discoveries. Earlier in the day, I got the last seat on a shuttle bus from the parking lot. As I smiled and took my seat, a friendly woman in the next seat back greeted me and asked if there was somebody special I was going to see. I said I was looking to take in the whole experience and had been impressed with the day's lineup. She said she was excited to see Lisa Fischer, who had previously been at Newport singing with Chris Botti. I made a mental note and decided to check Lisa's music out if I had the chance.
In my last post, I mentioned how much I liked the Quad Stage. So late in the day, I returned and found a good seat. A few minutes later, I heard a lilting sound coming from the stage -- my first glimpse of Lisa Fischer as she was checking out her microphone.
A few minutes later, Eric Jackson of WGBH, the most famous jazz announcer in New England, introduced Lisa and said this was his first chance to see her sing live. Lisa's group is called Grand Baton. Moments later, the music began. Here I was at Newport and the music was clearly -- gospel. Midway into the song, she led a sing-along. She convinced the audience to sing the word Freedom and to sing a few other words as well. As I wrote in my journal, I wasn't sure if this was jazz, but it was working. Her next song was Fever which suited her very well. Lisa sings both words and sounds and moves effortlessly from one to the other. A favorite move of hers is to swoop upwards to hit impossibly high notes and then let them echo. By now, Grand Baton had shown they were a group of fine musicians and very tight. The guitarist, JC Maillard, had been introduced as the musical director and he was all of that. In the first few songs, he played an amplified acoustic guitar and showed versatility in shifting from folk sounds into a powerful flamenco style. The other band members were Aidan Carroll on bass and Thierry Arpino on drums, but they worked best as a unit and their solid foundation allowed Lisa to swoop and soar, drawing echoplexed sonic figures in the air. Here's what the band looked like in full swing.
Next, Maillard strapped on a dark red electric guitar and began riffing. Above the riff, Lisa began to sing a baroque version of Led Zep's It's been a long time since I rock and rolled. Later in the song, Maillard revved up the electronics and played waves of highly distorted guitar licks, not at all like Jimmy Page, but fitting in well in counterpoint to Lisa's high notes and wordless harmonics.
By this time, I'd decided the music was unclassifiable, but that was a good thing! Next, the band shifted into a rococo version of Jumping Jack Flash. Maillard had shifted to tall, lute-shaped instrument and his sounds had elements both of sitar and Mediterranean style acoustic music. Maillard also sang and on this song, he and bassist Carroll both same background while Lisa floated above all with her voice and did a little dance using her long burgundy dress like a veil. In between songs, she recounted a conversation she'd had with another woman: "To feel the way someone else sees me."
She chose to finish with a rendition of Wild Horses. I've always liked listening to (or playing) this song and I reacted to the band's music by releasing a bouquet of salty tears, a welcome cleansing of my eyes on this hot, dry day. The music shifted moods. Lisa's vocal was somber, like the echoing tones sung by monks in a medieval church. She ended by building up to a high-pitched wail like Aretha Franklin, then dropped to a whisper to articulate the final words.
I gave a mental word of thanks to the woman who'd told me about Lisa earlier in the day. What a show! I met friends just after the set ended and we agreed that we'd all experienced an amazing end to a wonderful day.