When everything’s clicking at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the weekend feels like far more than a densely packed series of performances. By both serendipity and design, Monterey creates a free-flowing dialogue between musicians and eras, so that a tune played in one venue can reverberate across the fairgrounds. The 2017 Monterey Jazz Festival celebrated its milestone 60th season Sept. 15-17, and the cross-generational talk between various stages and venues grew richer as the weekend progressed, climaxing with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s transporting and deeply playful piano duo in the Main Arena.
But that’s getting way ahead of ourselves. Matt Wilson figured the best way to start a weekend-long party was by inviting his comrades to sit in with his band performing tunes inspired by Carl Sandburg’s poetry. It took two players to replace Honey and Salt guitarist/vocalist Dawn Thompson, with ace guitarist Bruce Forman and Seattle-based pianist/keyboardist Dawn Clement (covering the vocals with aplomb) joining cornetist Ron Miles and reed expert Jeff Lederer for a rip-snorting set. As rowdy, raucous and trenchant as a New York Post headline, the music attained a Wilson-ian apotheosis of screwball sublimity when Peter Erskine and Jeff Clayton recited Sandburg’s advice for encountering gorillas and elephants in “We Must Be Polite.”