08/09/05

Telluride Jazz Celebration 2005

Gold mining put Telluride, Colo., on the map in 1876. It's addition to the cultural map took place exactly one century later when the Telluride Jazz Celebration was born. This year, at the 29th Celebration, held Aug. 5-7, nearly 11,000 music lovers heard an eclectic mishmash of sounds at indoor and outdoor venues that included a public library, a couple of parks, an old opera house, a storefront serving as a comfortable site for clinics and master classes, a conference center that could be reached by a free gondola ride over the majestic 10,000-foot peaks of the San Juan Mountains, a downtown hotel and a rug store for special receptions, the Fly Me to the Moon Cafe, and--focal point of the festival--the Ron Carter Outdoor Stage.

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Dave Holland

Was it a coincidence that the main venue was named for the 2005 guest of honor? Hardly. Since 1998, the festival staff has fashioned its celebrations around a well-known jazz figure, painting his name on the stage in letters large enough to match his reputation. The first honoree was James Moody, and among the others have been Stanley Turrentine, Cedar Walton and Larry Coryell. So despite the bouillabaisse of rock, funk, new age, traditional, folk, Latin and even Mariachi Vasquez, the festival lived up to its middle name: Jazz. And synonymous with the genre, Carter led the way, on "his" stage, not just in eloquence, but also in elegance. The appearance of his quartet provided a stark contrast to every other combo. Anyone who was there Saturday evening will never forget the stunning white suits conjuring memories of concerts by the Modern Jazz Quartet. And backstage, virtually every bassist scheduled to play was on hand to hear the master. The same could be said about Carter's clinic: It seemed every student in the area was on hand to listen and learn and ask questions. Carter encouraged everyone to ask and in his humorous, avuncular style he gave of himself completely.

Another bassist who made a lasting impression on the festival crowd was Dave Holland, whose quintet offered endless varieties of timbres: trombone; tenor sax, doubling on soprano; vibist doubling on marimba, bass and drums. They offered a memorable set that was often devoid of a steady pulse because Holland eschewed the percussive in favor of the melodic. Two guitarists led groups with similar in-and-out modernity and complexity: John Scofield and Bill Connors. Scofield, backed by his 1980s colleagues Steve Swallow, on electric bass, and drummer Bill Stewart, made the most of the family reunion. Both Scofield and Swallow dazzled the crowd with outstanding solo statements, but it was their combined sound that elicited the most enthusiastic responses. Connors was similarly bilingual, reflecting his precocious beginnings, at 24, with Chick Corea's Return to Forever combo. He let his vast experience--from Jan Garbarek to Lee Konitz--speak for itself. Connors is a man of very few words (although he presided over a spellbinding master class and clinic that was filled with helpful information), but the highlight of his set was a musical conversation with guest altoist Bobby Watson that left the fans screaming for more.

Watson was one of the most visible stars of the festival, playing every day, contributing more notes than anyone else, not just because of his ubiquity, but by his special technique of circular breathing. His ideas came nonstop and revealed his allegiance to Bird. His own group,"Horizon," is a tight-knit bop quintet that swung with the same hard edge that Watson elicited from his musical director days (1977-81) with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. Included in Horizon: fellow Messenger from that period, drummer Victor Lewis. It made for some of the most intense bop heard all weekend. The outstanding bassist Kenny Walker, propelled by drummer Paul Romaine, led another hard-swinging quintet. The group’s front line consisted of tenor and guitar--a surprisingly effective timbre, but Watson lent an additional color when he sat in to play a tribute he composed for the recently departed Robin Magee, called "Robin's Way." She was the former wife of festival producer and executive director, Paul Machado.

Regarding singers: Lumbabo and Driggs, have enough presence to fill the largest stage. Romero Lubambo, from Brazil, has equally impressive chops as a jazz guitarist and a bossa nova specialist. His wife, Pamela Driggs, fell in love with bossa, studied Portuguese and went to Brazil where she polished her art. She's blessed with good intonation, a wide range and a natural feeling for jazz phrasing. The duo boasts a diverse repertoire and great instincts for anticipating each other's quirks. Highlight of their set: "Take Five"--in 6/8! Lizz Wright is no longer a work in progress; she has arrived. She claims "I'm still searching for my sound and voice," but in her search, the singer-songwriter with flawless intonation has proven that the whole spectrum of music is her niche. What brought the opera house listeners to their feet was the deep spirituality of a gospel tune she belted, combining the best of jazz and blues in the process. Verily, she has the whole world in her deep husky alto. The joyous romp of the Queen City Band, led by tuba player Bill Clark, was made even happier thanks to Dixieland belter Wende Harston, who doesn't really need a mike.

Rock was provided, courtesy of the well-received Dave Mason Band, and new age literally floated from the cello-enriched Country Road X, where motifs sprouted up organically, contrapuntal conversations constantly took place and dynamics were beautifully controlled.

Despite the daily rain and mud, and the occasional stagehand sweeping water off the stage, the festival was so well-produced, groups were brought on and off with such precision, you could set your watch by merely looking at the schedule. Final kudos: the sound was impeccable thanks to the technicians at Jacob's Audio.

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