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2013 Newport Jazz Festival Preview: Jazzers Invade The Fort!

MOJA Radio host Russ Davis runs down the lineup of performances for noted festival

Robert Glasper, Caramoor Jazz Festival, 8-11
Eddie Palmieri performing with his group at the 2011 Newport Jazz Festival

There aren’t many reasons to feel sorry for Robert Glasper these days. I mean the guy is talented, handsome, young, engaging and just worked a magic trick that many would like to perform. He brought jazz into the pop categories of the Grammy Awards by winning the 2013 Grammy for Best R&B Album. He and his Robert Glasper Experiment put together one of the most inventive combinations of jazz and hip hop so far in the release Black Radio. So why would I feel sorry for this accomplished young man? Well, he has to take to the Quad Stage on day one at the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival at the same time as Wayne Shorter takes the Fort Stage with special guest Herbie Hancock to celebrate Wayne’s 80th birthday! Can you say embarrassment of riches?

Don’t feel too very sorry for Mr. Glasper as he’ll have a large, warm and welcoming crowd, as there will be thousands of eager jazzers filling every foot of historic Fort Adams State Park, just a short ferry ride from Newport, Rhode Island, to take in his and all the performances of the 2013 edition of “The Grandfather of All Jazz Festivals” over the weekend of August 3-4, 2013.

Day one of this marvelous event that pianist, educator and great jazz impresario George Wein began back in 1954, begins in the late morning with musicians from the world of music education, Boston’s Berklee College of Music and The Rhode Island Music Educators Association and ends with what will surely be a rousing electric jazz performance by bassist Marcus Miller on the huge Fort Stage. Since the last show ends before sunset, it gives everyone time to get back on the ferry to make their way to Newport for a dinner at one of the dockside restaurants or maybe a quick walk at sunset on the famed cliffs at the foot of Gatsby-like mansions overlooking the ocean below. Newport’s a pretty fun hang even when the most famous jazz festival of all time isn’t going on.

The day begins on the medium-sized Quad Stage with New York-based guitarist Mary Halvorson and her quintet blending chamber jazz of a free nature with her other influences including avant-rock and classical. Overlapping with that performance one can enjoy Chicago-born trombonist Ray Anderson, who certainly feels and sounds quite often like a son of New Orleans, bringing on the tradition with his Pocket Brass Band. If you’re quick, and since the stages are all within easy walking distance of one another, you can make your way to the Fort Stage to hear one of the reigning kings of Latin jazz, though he’s always incorporated everything from bebop to classical into his mix, the pianist Michel Camilo and his Sextet. At the same general time you can take your pick of other, varied, musical offerings from Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, blending Eastern and Western elements with his group Two Rivers, while Bill Charlap holds court on the intimate Harbor Stage with his long time associates Kenny Washington on drums and Peter Washington on bass with special guests Anat Cohen and Bob Wilber. If you’re going to Newport to swing, then this is a show you must see!

Mid-afternoon Saturday will be dominated by the aforementioned 80th Birthday celebration for Wayne Shorter and if you’re going there looking to witness a set filled with the exact list of songs from his latest quartet offering Without A Net, then think again. This tightrope walker never plays the same song the same way twice so it will simply be music made by great musicians of the highest order, Wayne on saxes, Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums with special guest Herbie Hancock, taking off and landing where they may. At the same time the Robert Glasper Experiment will be building that bridge between hip hop and jazz while on the Harbor Stage one of the most unique guitarists and composers in modern jazz, Rez Abbassi and his trio, build a similar bridge between the worlds of jazz, classical and the East as Mr. Abbassi, born in Pakistan but raised, musically and literally, in California and New York presents his brilliant one-of-a-kind take on jazz guitar. After his performance, the day is only about half done but there’s no time for a break. When you come to Newport you need to come hungry because your plate will be full all day long.

As soon as Wayne Shorter’s set ends Terence Blanchard and his quintet begin on the Quad Stage. The esteemed trumpeter from New Orleans released his latest Blue Note album Magnetic in May to coincide with the release of his first “Opera in Jazz” titled Champion, but neither of these works seem to be what the Newport audience will hear as his quintet is primarily a different cast of characters from the one that created these projects. Terence has such a varied background that it will be exciting to see what he chooses to include in his set. Here is a man who has won more awards than most can dream of, has worked with everyone from Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers to Herbie Hancock, composed multiple soundtracks for film, television and stage productions, led the Thelonious Monk Institute for a decade as artistic director and played on bandstands all around the world for decades.

Overlapping with Mr. Blanchard’s set will be two varied presentations, one from THE jazz sensation of the past few years, bassist, vocalist, composer and bandleader Esperanza Spalding, who’ll present her Radio Music Society project to the crowd from the largest venue, the Fort Stage. The other is at a much more intimate setting, The Harbor Stage, for the unique sound of the harp in a jazz setting as played by Colombian-born Edmar Casteneda and his trio with special guest Andres Tierra. Edmar has worked with artists from the Latin world and drawn from traditional folk and other sources such as flamenco while working with jazzers like Joe Locke and John Scofield, so come to his show with an open mind and prepare to be happily stunned.

The last wave of performances for day one of the 2013 Newport Jazz Festival includes one of the most talked about vocalists around today, Gregory Porter, playing the Quad Stage and certainly filling his set with his personal blend of jazz, soul, blues and gospel. After that, you might want to find a spot under the tent in front of the Harbor Stage for what could be the surprise event of the first day, sax and flute legend Lew Tabackin with his old friend and fellow legend, trumpet master Randy Brecker, and a stellar rhythm section including Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. This group will swing, without a doubt, while the closing show featuring Marcus Miller will feature electricity and groove, as he will most probably present some of the music from his latest album Renaissance. If there was ever a more appropriately titled album I can’t remember what that might be, as Marcus is truly a renaissance man, having worked in every idiom one can imagine from rock and pop to blues and every form or jazz. It will most certainly be a rousing end to a marvelously varied day of musical presentations on day one of the festival. If you can get to bed early do so, as you’ll want to arise bright and early for an equally astounding day two at NJF 2013!

Day two of the festival starts with more jazz from academia with The University of Rhode Island Festival Band and the MA Music Educators Association warming up the crowd for what will be a most interesting set by the first small group of the day as Donny McCaslin, playing an ancient saxophone that is over 20 years older than he is, blends electronica influences with jazz in a quartet presentation of his latest album Casting For Gravity. Old merges with the new literally with Donny’s latest project, which I’ve seen live, and can’t endorse enough. Immediately following Mr. McCaslin are three shows that present another delightful dilemma, and your choice may depend on if you’re inclined to hear more sax, some masterful guitar work or modern jazz piano.

The saxophone comes from the great Joshua Redman and his quartet. His latest work included a collaboration with Brad Mehldau and an orchestra on the album Walking Shadows and, since he’ll be presenting a more stripped down setup with a different cast, get ready to focus in on some great tenor-playing by one of the most expressive players of the instrument around today. The guitar playing on the Quad Stage during this mid-day time slot will be led by one of the all-time greats, Jim Hall, joined by the all-star rhythm section of bassist Scott Colley and drummer Lewis Nash plus special guest guitarist Julian Lage. Julian has established himself as a fine leader as well as member of Gary Burton’s New Quartet and this should be a guitar lover’s treat. The piano comes from NYC-based Jon Batiste and his Stay Human group. Mr. Batiste knows the traditions of jazz piano, he’s curator of The National Jazz Museum in Harlem and has worked with the likes of Wynton Marsalis and Roy Hargrove, but he’s also collaborated with Prince and Jimmy Buffett so expect the unexpected.

If you’d like to travel to New Orleans without leaving Newport you can simply keep your seat in front of the Harbor Stage after seeing Jon Batiste, because the legendary Dirty Dozen Brass Band will take that stage next to celebrate their 35th year in existence in that distinctive NOLA way! This is one of those shows that prompts me to sometimes say, “If this doesn’t move you, have someone check your pulse!” The same may be said about the show that overlaps on the neighboring Quad Stage where Chicago’s versatile singer-songwriter Dee Alexander will hold court. Dee states that jazz is the perfect music for her because it can incorporate all her influences from African-laced world music, to neo-soul, R&B, gospel, blues and other boundary defying forms. You can hear a bit of both of these two shows and still catch what may be the jewel of the day, Chick Corea’s latest project, The Vigil.

Chick hasn’t won 20 Grammy awards and become an NEA Jazz Master by standing still musically or literally over these many years. He keeps it fresh and forward moving by changing his cast of characters. The Vigil, the name of this latest album and group, includes multi-instrumentalist Tim Garland, guitarist Charles Altura, Roy Haynes’ grandson Marcus Gilmore on drums and bassist Hadrien Feraud from France, known for some fine solo work as well as being a member of one of John McLaughlin’s latest groups. Mr. Feraud is not available for this Newport appearance so Chick has picked up some guy off the street to play bass named McBride, first name Christian. He should fill in just fine from what I’ve heard about Mr. McBride and having heard this new release, that won’t be available until the following week, the performance should be spectacular and uniquely modern Chick Corea music. What else would be expected from this brilliant musical seeker?

If you’re nimble and quick you can dash over to the Harbor Stage after Chick to hear another musical visionary, saxophonist Steve Coleman. After arriving in NYC from his original home in Chicago, Mr. Coleman brought that sense of musical freedom from the “Windy City” with him and set up shop to help create one of the greatest movements the New York scene has known, The M-Base Movement, that helped launch the careers of his fellow artists like Greg Osby, Joe Lovano, Cassandra Wilson and others. He’ll employ all the variety he has with this rare two-hour performance that will include his Five Elements project, a set with the Talea Ensemble and a duo with David Bryant.

While Steve Coleman goes through the changes you might want to also slip over to the Quad Stage to hear one of the most powerful pianists in jazz today, the astounding young artist from Japan, Hiromi, who’ll present her uplifting combination of classical, rock and jazz with a trio that includes bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Steve Smith. While Hiromi raises the roof, the crowd in front of the Fort Stage will no doubt rise to their feet as they move to the rhythms produced by NEA Jazz Master Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra in another of this year’s festival presentations of one of the essential elements of jazz, Latin music. After all the incredible sets already presented on this final day of Newport 2013 there is still one final wave of shows to be enjoyed before hitting the ferry back to the mainland.

Roy Haynes is a drummer’s drummer, a player’s player, a gentleman’s gentleman, and a fashionable man who has enough style for everyone to get a little for themselves. He also has a philosophy that we can all share in as well. How does one keep going in such a strong and masterful way at the age of 88? Roy once told me the secret is “Just get out of bed every morning!” As I’ve said before in relation to Roy, “Waiter, I’ll have what HE’S having please!” Roy will bring his quartet he calls the Fountain of Youth Band to the Quad Stage and if you’re coming to Newport for some swing and a bit more history then this set is exactly what you came for.

Over on the Harbor Stage you can hear the music of a guitarist with a growing legend, David Gilmore and his band Numerology. If his brilliant latest release recorded live at New York’s famed Jazz Standard is any guide this should be much more than just another set on the list of shows at NJF 2013. Mr. Gilmore is scheduled to be joined by a number of luminaries and solo artists such as Christian McBride, Miguel Zenon, drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts and vocalist Claudia Acuna. This should be a treat and if you don’t know about David Gilmore, possibly THE surprise show of the festival. The 2013 Newport Jazz Festival just HAS to end with a bang, and so it shall as Paquito D’Rivera leads the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band in one, final blast of music unifying the past and the present and raising the energy level just enough to get any of the attendees whose energy has waned out of their seats one more time. What more can I say? How about “See you in NEWPORT!”

Russ Davis

Russ Davis produces and presents the only jazz program – “Jazz America” – for the U.S. Government Service, Voice of America. He also programs and presents the online modern jazz channel MOJA Radio, a subscription service. You can hear a number of free programs, including the latest Jazz America show by visiting MOJA Radio’s website.

Originally Published