Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Monterey Jazz Festival

We did get down to the Monterey Jazz Festival on Sunday and as usual, it is a great hang surrounded by jazz and jazz lovers. It was a beautiful day to drive down along the ocean from Half Moon Bay. A good way to start the day.

We beelined to see the interview on the creative process with Carla Bley and Steve Swallow. The conversation was very laid back, fun and a little predictable but I did learn how much detail actually goes into her compositions. Every note is painstakingly contemplated so that it is written in stone and played as written. Steve Swallow said listening to her write 2 measures for weeks at a time drove him out of his mind and that it truly was an illness to which Carla agreed. Friend and trumpeter John Worley played in her band for the festival and can attest to her ability to hear every note in the huge chords. John had a lot more good to say about Carla and I hope he can write about the experience. She talked about growing up and how delighted she would feel when musical toys would break and play all the wrong notes and how she loved the arcade at the Cliff House in San Francisco and how wrong the music would sound from the worn out arcade machines.

Shopping and eating came next. The festival always hosts a great collection of artists and vendors that you do not see every day or at every festival.

We caught some of Claire Dee and I thought that she got a lot more funky then what you hear on her CDs which was nice and refreshing. Her sweet and easy listening stuff was there too along with husband and arranger Ken French on piano. All in all a very professional performance.

While we were waiting for Jon Jang, we thought we would see what was playing in the arena. We didn't check the schedule but could hear music and since there was no one at the open gate, we just walked in. The place was empty except for someone on stage playing guitar and the sound people. We sat down in the last row drinking our coffees and listening to this cat on stage in a baseball cap strumming these huge complex chords and creating this massive sound and trying out several guitars when we started thinking that this must be Pat Metheny doing a sound check. We sat there for 10 or 15 minutes being treated to this incredible private concert when I thought to pull out the binoculars to get a better look at the performer. That is when an usher walks up and asks to see our pass. I show her my arena ticket but that is not good enough as the arena is closed and we have to leave. It was most enjoyable as we could not stay for his concert later that evening.

A brief word about the sound systems which sounded excellent except for the volume. Every venue is so loud my ears rang and at times, left me wincing in pain. Am I the only one to notice this? I did appreciate the quality of the sound and the expert engineering.

On to Jon Jang. We are friends with almost half the band, well at least Wayne Wallace and John Worley. It is always good to hear them play together. Jon's arrangements of east asian folk music as modern jazz compositions is unique and interesting. He talks of the history of the originating pieces and makes the show quite interesting. They did not have much rehearsal time as the group is new but the high level of musicianship pulled off a show different then any other at the festival. The musicians were obviously having fun and a very appreciative audience gave a standing ovation.

We next took in the Christian McBride show. I play bass and wanted a good seat. Christian come out and plays an incredibly complex bass solo, first thing, with unbelievable chops. Most impressive. The rest of the band filters in and they play a long groove tune. The surprise (at least to me) is that there is a DJ layin down the beat and it turns into a hippity hop concert. It is all high quality music, except for the drum loops on vinyl which were fairly scratched and dirty, so there was a lot of popping and hiss (not helped by the loud PA). I liked the first tune anyway but halfway through the second tune, the music was going nowhere fast and it is getting close Denny Zeitlen's first set. We made the decision to leave the pretty good seats we had and take that long obvious walk down the aisle. Sorry Christian.

Denny Zeitlen was worth it and the best show of the festival for me. A pianist of incredible technique and interpretation, Denny always leaves me wondering where he comes from. One revealing song was a piece that described his experiences mountain biking around Slickrock in southern Utah. Most entertaining and it explains a few things. Buster Williams plays an understated bass with interesting an interesting slide technique that taught me a few things. This was my first exposure to drummer Matt Wilson who is one of the most musical and expressive drummers I have seen in a long time. He appears to have jumped out of an old tv series but I was left wanting to know more and that is my homework assignment for this week.

We left after that but had a great time. One more thing, this festival is one great mecca for photographers. They swarm the stage at every concert. I know you must be bold to get the good pictures and I tried once myself but there were so many, I must say that it was a bit distracting. What can you say. It is really irresistible for most jazz loving photographers.

Here are a few links for other MJF reviews:

Jazz Portraits
Jazz (2nd day review)
Doug Ramsey - Rifftides...
Fojazz (various posts)...


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