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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Christian Scott

The most frenzied ovation of the 2006 Tranquility Jazz Festival-an unlikely BET-funded straightahead bash now in its fourth year-didn’t follow a set by McCoy Tyner, who appeared gaunt and unsteady but played with much of the clout and imagination he brandished in the 1960s. It didn’t follow Pharoah Sanders (pictured), who, at 66, blew through Trane standards with freightliner intensity before dancing and chanting like some Impulse-era version of the late James Brown.

The festival’s best reception didn’t trail the lean, slinky singer Nnenna Freelon, whose ’70s-style Afro-Centrism, sparkling vocal instrument and ability to rearrange Billie Holiday without committing musical sacrilege impressed a healthy opening-night audience at the posh CuisinArt Resort. Sadly, only a couple women stood to mambo during Eddie Palmieri’s Latin-jazz blowout, and only for one number. By the time Palmieri’s compadre Brian Lynch finished squealing his last robust chorus, the audience had teetered out and only a few sparse pockets of concert-goers remained. Not even Javon Jackson, who played from Now, his latest set of pseudo-smooth groove tunes, could incite anything you’d consider a party in a half-empty pavilion.

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