One of the aspects of the Newport Jazz Festival which really works well is the multiple stage concept. True, it often seems like two groups you've just got to see are playing at the same time, but you can always split your time if you're really intent on seeing both acts.
Newport normally has three stages, but this year a fourth smaller indoor venue was added. The main Fort stage often has the headliners, but sometimes the best action is on the other stages. My favorite tends to be the Quad Stage. Here, one walks through the walls of the fort (yes, there is still a Fort Adams) and arrives on an open field with a long tent set up to the right. The stage is at the back of the tent, near the fort walls, but the tent also extended over a seating area with folding chairs, lawn seating and standing room along the sides. In this more intimate venue, it's easier to see the musicians and the scale is much more manageable for all.
After sitting in the sun for two hours on a hot Saturday afternoon, making my way into a shaded tent seat sounded like a great idea. I caught the very end of a set performed by a unique vocalist -- Jose James. His sound clustered with rap speed and a vocal style that reminded me of singers as diverse as Al Jarreau and Gil Scott Heron. After he finished, I sidled over to the folding chairs and settled into an aisle side seat. In about twenty minutes, the next act, the Hiromi Trio Project was ready to begin.
My oldest son Jason is a huge Hiromi fan and he introduced me to her music at Newport a few years back. Hiromi is a young Japanese pianist who is visually striking. She has a lean frame and jet black hair which seems to defy gravity. The Quad Stage suited her group very well. A trio like hers tends to get swallowed up by the Fort stage, but here the size is just right. They began the set with a punchy vamp ala Chick Corea. The music built up and her percussive touch drove the band forward. Sometimes she'll bang out her piano lines and rocks forward and back until she momentum seems to propel her a few inches up off of her seat -- it's natural movement and fits the music. Here's a glimpse of Hiromi at work (she's on the left):
She can create crystalline melodies with her right hand, then add the left to dive deep into the lower timbres of her piano. The band was outstanding. Anthony Jackson played an 8 string contra-bass guitar and was the rock who held together the music even when Hiromi embarked on flights of extended improvisation. To the right, drummer Simon Phillips made full use of his large drum kit and lent a highly percussive counterpoint to the ensemble. Hiromi mainly played her acoustic piano, but at times stood up and added a synth line with her left hand while continuing to play melody lines with her right. Later she told us the names of her songs -- Warrior, Desire and Dreamer, to name a few. Her music touched many bases -- a two-handed ragtime feel flowed into chunky chords like Monk, then ultra-fast lyrical lines with her right hand accompanied by delicate brush work from Phillips. They closed the set with the title track from her latest album, Alive. I wondered if any music I would hear later in the day could possibly match this. I'll talk about that in my next post. This post is the second in a short series on the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival. The first post can be found here.