It's a challenge to keep up with new developments and artists in the jazz world. The Newport Jazz Festival offers the best local remedy for people in the northeast US. This past Saturday was a near cloudless day and the bright sunshine attracted thousands to Newport. The streets were filled with visitors and bicyclists made much better time than drivers throughout much of the route to the seaside Fort Adams site.
But all was forgiven when I was able to plunk down my lawn chair a couple hundred feet from the main stage and listen to the music. The site is right on the harbor and on a day like this sailboats take advantage of the breezes that flow through Narragansett Bay. Here is what it looked like facing the stage:
Drummer Jack DeJohnette led the first act, a group aptly named Made In Chicago. As I found my seat, Jack was driving the band hard as they collectively improvised on their instruments. The musicians present had helped originate the classic late Sixties Chicago avant-garde sound - Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams and Larry Graham -- but still played with intensity and originality. Not a bad way to start the day.
The next act on the Fort Stage was new to me, but the Maria Schneider Orchestra had been highly recommended by a friend. Maria is a young, blonde-haired woman who writes music and leads a group of about twenty musicians. Maria has listed Gil Evans as an influence, but the music ranged widely. The musical structures which left room for multiple horn players playing over the band reminded me of seeing the Gil Evans Band in Montreal in the late eighties, but the overall musical palette covered a lot of ground. Jazz guitarist Ben Monder was featured on a couple of different songs which illustrated the band's range. On an early tune in the set, Ben played a highly distorted and blazingly fast guitar sound reminiscent of early Al DiMeola, coupled with wails of Hendrix style feedback. On a later song, Ben's approach was quiet and lyrical, helping to paint the vision of Maria's home region of Minnesota countryside. Most of the music in the performance was from her latest album, The Thompson Fields. On another composition, dueling saxophonists played over choppy piano overlaid by orchestral textures. On the final song, Stephen Wilson played immaculate soprano sax stating the melody with support from the rest of the band. Lately, there's been more big band jazz music evident at Newport; Maria Schneider showed that her work is an important example of this direction. Later, I purchased her CD and she seemed very down to earth as we chatted briefly about her music and jazz in the signing line.
I'll share a few more of my experiences from my day at Newport on my next post.