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Concert Review: 2017 Playboy Jazz Festival

Return to jazz and blues roots provides lift to long-running event

From left: Warren Wolf and drummer Eric Harland (photo by Mathew Imaging)
From left: Warren Wolf and drummer Eric Harland (photo by Mathew Imaging)
Hudson, from left: John Medeski, Larry Grenadier, Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield (photo by Mathew Imaging)
Hudson, from left: John Medeski, Larry Grenadier, Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield (photo by Mathew Imaging)
Arturo Sandoval (photo by Mathew Imaging)
Arturo Sandoval (photo by Mathew Imaging)
From left: DIVA Jazz Orchestra members Alexa Tarantino and Roxy Coss (photo by Mathew Imaging)
From left: DIVA Jazz Orchestra members Alexa Tarantino and Roxy Coss (photo by Mathew Imaging)
Carl Allen (photo by Mathew Imaging)
Carl Allen (photo by Mathew Imaging)
From left: Gregory Porter and tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott (photo by Mathew Imaging)
From left: Gregory Porter and tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott (photo by Mathew Imaging)

Los Angeles’ Playboy Jazz Festival is often a mélange of R&B, pop, funk and smooth jazz, which leaves mainstream jazz and blues marginalized. However, for the event’s 39th edition there was a noticeable shift, resulting in one of the strongest lineups in recent years, with strong crowd reactions affirming the fest’s choices.

June 10 Highlights

“Celebrating Bobby Hutcherson” was coordinated by vibraphonist and festival music director Stefon Harris, a protégé of the vibraphone and marimba icon who passed away in 2016. Teaming with Harris in the program were three other vibes players—still-in-college Joel Ross, powerhouse Warren Wolf and legend Roy Ayers, all superbly supported by pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist Joshua Crumbly and drummer Eric Harland. Harris, Wolf and Ayers, whom Harris dubbed “The Godfather of Neo Soul,” aligned for a spirited rendering of “Highway One” that even had emcee George Lopez howling in approval. Harris briefly stepped away as Ross joined the other vibraphonists for “Little B’s Poem” and then returned for the finale, “Roses Poses,” with everyone, accompaniment included, all soloing profoundly.

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