Monterey Jazz Festival tour | 60th Anniversary vanguard ensemble
Kimmel Center, Philadelphia March 23, 2019
The Monterey Jazz Festival Tour is currently crisscrossing the country for one night only performances after they their exquisite debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center in March. A millennial vanguard ensemble with vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, trumpeter Bria Skonberg, baritone saxist Melissa Aldana, pianist Christian Sands, drummer Jamison Ross and bassist Yasushi Nakamura. with is made up of musicians and composers and they are making these concerts something truly memorable. In Verizon Hall in Philadelphia jazz multigenerational jazz fans and many local musicians were in attendance March 23 for their sizzling 100-minute set.
The group unceremoniously walked on the Verizon Hall stage and from the first notes of Cecile’s composition ‘Fog’ this ensemble made this a musical night to remember. Salvant’s writing her own chapter on stellar jazz phrasing and her energy with the other musicians the subtle power of her voice simply rapturous. ‘Fog’ is Salvant’s starts as a baleful torch song that breaks out into a rollicking jam. The singer joked she was inspired to write it by the rudeness of a man who stood up for a date because he said he had to walk his dog.
Also among the many substantive highlights-The free-form fusion orchestral by tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana titled ‘Elsewhere’ that initially sounds like a solo tenor sax scales study then careens for 15 or so minutes into a raucous instrumental with each player weighing in lyrically, progressively, some dissonant voicings, but all together a cohesive showcase for MJF’s ensemble virtuosity.
David Sands transcription of one of the most famous arias in all of opera E lucevan le Stelle sung by the painter Mario in the 3rd act of Puccini’s Tosca. Sands builds up to the great Puccini passage with an improvisational prologue, then with Ross with whispery rhythmic and Nakamura, caressing bass bowing, it is a tour de force of jazz and classical piano fusion, then Sands solos on the soaring heart of the aria, that proved a make or break tenors around the world.
Sands’ piano, Nakamura’s bass and drummer Ross, a rhythmic internal drive proves to be towering jazz rhythmic architecture.
Not to be outdone Aldana and Skonberg’s sax-trumpet harmonics took center soundstage throughout the concert. And as Skonberg noted before she paid tribute to Valiadia Snow an African-American singer and trumpeter in the 30s and 40s. Skonberg saying how great it is to have female jazz musicians equal time on the MJF Anniversary Tour. Then Skonberg sang and blew the during a vampy swing of “I Got My High Hat Trumpet and Rhythm” in delectable homage with call and response (HI HI-Ho HO)vocalese from the audience and Skonberg.is
Salvant returned to the stage with a tribute to legendary jazz vocalist Betty Carter’s song ‘I Can’t Help it’ with an opening vocalese duet with Nakamura. Later she sang ‘Moonsong’ Salvant displayed her unfussy rich upper range and her entrancing sonorous lower register.
Ross also has a great voice/ singing his song ‘Sack Full of Dreams’ (The wonderful world of love) with evocations of acapella Africanist song intro then singing his same lyric about a world in love with love in a smooth jazz style, then weaving in lyrics from the ballads What a Wonderful World and Reach Out and Touch.
Yasushi Nakamura weighed in with another raucous orchestral which Sands introduced as ‘Yasugaloo’ ala the 60s Bugaloo R&B dance funk. Nakamura with a rhythmic bass line that Skonberg intercepts and blazes through a Nola style mute horn, then Sands picking up spidery piano runs.
Sands’ finale ‘Fight for Freedom’ a blazing jazz orchestral, a musical j’accuse to the current socio/cultural landsca~ pe and the vital musical spirit of the progressive jazz vanguards. In style and substance, this MJF ensemble tour celebrates 60-plus years of America’s premiere West Coast jazz festival diaspora.
~for MJF tour cities & dates go to http://www.montereyjazzfestival.org/ontour
~The Kimmel Center celebrates Jazz month in April~ go to http://www.kimmelcenter.org for the line up of scheduled concerts and artists events