Double Dose of Fresh Talent: Mario Abney & Saratoga Springs

Preview of Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Al Jarreau
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Gerald Albright & Kirk Whalum
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Mario Abney
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Ramsey Lewis
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More often than not, one of the great aspects of the jazz festival format is a listener’s opportunity to hear fresh talent – players who for one reason or another have not yet reached their musical radar. It’s a chance to hear how these voices – perhaps fresh talent, perhaps from another region, are carrying forward the music.

One of this year’s most interesting newcomers at Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., during the last weekend in June figures to be trumpeter Mario Abney. Attendees on Saturday, June 26 have a chance for a double dose of Abney’s sextet (actually billed as a quintet plus one).

The band will be featured early in the day on the SPAC Main stage, and later in the afternoon closes the more intimate Gazebo stage up the hill.

Not a bad gig for a 32-year-old player who doesn’t have his own Web site yet, a CD in distribution, or even a computer. He does have talent, a tight band – and a quality horn that was partly subsidized by Wynton Marsalis. There is a CD in the works called Spiritual Perception.)

Freihofer’s Jazz Festival Artistic Director/Co-Producer Dan Melnick, who developed his production chops as part of George Wein’s Festival Productions team, now runs his own firm called Absolutely Live Entertainment, LLC.

Melnick first heard Abney last year while working as backstage manager at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s Jazz Tent.

“Mario opened the tent there last year and completely tore it up. He is exciting, intense, beautiful and leads a great, great band. As soon as he got off the stage (I had no idea who he was or what he was about when he arrived), I literally bear-hugged him and told him he was coming to Saratoga this year,” Melnick said. “He’s from Chicago, lived in Ohio for a few years, and has been in New Orleans for a few years. He plays hard-bop/funk/modern jazz all wrapped up into one high-fueled package.”

Abney leads three different bands [The Avante Garde, The Abney Effect and The Mario Abney Quintet], and gigs with other bands. The Abney Effect has been performing at all-night sessions in New Orleans at the headquarters of the Mardi Gras Indians Brothers & Sisters Association owned by Ivory Holmes.

His band at Saratoga will include Kaliq Woods on clarinet, Josh Atkin on alto saxophone, Jessy Morrow on bass, Jason Butler on piano and keyboard,s and Julian Addison on drums. You can get a little taste of his music here

The lineup at this year’s 33rd annual Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival also includes Gladys Knight, Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio, Taj Mahal, Al Di Meola, Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal. More than half of this year’s bands are performing at the festival for the first time.

Here is the full lineup: (performing generally in reverse order of listing)

Saturday, June 26, 2010 (noon to 10:30 p.m.)

Main Stage

Al Jarreau and the George Duke Trio

Sax for Stax – Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum

Ahmad Jamal

Taj Mahal

Al Di Meola – World Sinfonia

Evan Christopher

Mario Abney Quintet

Gazebo Stage

Tomasz Stanko Quartet

Alyssa Graham

JD Allen Trio

Steve Kroon Sextet

Mario Abney Quintet

Sunday, June 27, 2010 (noon to 8:30 p.m.)

Main Stage

Gladys Knight

Juan De Marcos and The Afro Cuban All Stars

Ramsey Lewis Trio

Ann Hampton Callaway

Stefon Harris and Blackout

Trio of Oz featuring Rachel Z and Omar Hakim

Gazebo Stage

Linda Oh Trio

Kendrick Scott Oracle

Ralph Lalama Quartet

Hailey Niswanger

Trio of Oz featuring Rachel Z and Omar Hakim