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DC Jazz 2011: Jazz on the National Mall

The National Mall; Washington, D.C., June 12, 2011

Shortly before Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor took the stage in the shadow of the Washington Monument as part of “Jazz on the National Mall,” one of the highlights of the DC Jazz Festival, a festival staff member announced that they had been advised of a severe storm, and that the audience should immediately find cover. The crowd quickly dispersed as the stage crew rushed to cover the equipment and the musicians huddled under tents. Though the weather turned out to be little more than a few minutes of moderate rain, allowing the majority of the audience to quickly return, the RH Factor and Eddie Palmieri’s All-Star Salsa Orchestra in particular unleashed a storm of their own.

The weather delay had been preceded by performances from Toby Foyeh & Orchestra Africa, the Claudia Acuña Quintet and Frédéric Yonnet, but the crowd was most excited for the evening’s two biggest names, Hargrove and Palmieri. Before Hargrove’s set, DC Jazz Festival founder Charles Fishman and executive director Sunny Sumter provided a Lifetime Achievement Award to Jimmy Heath, and Congressman Xavier Becerra of California joined Fishman and Sumter to present a second Lifetime Achievement Award to Palmieri.

After the long delay and awards presentation, the audience was clearly ready for more music, and the RH Factor started off with a driving, funky beat, introducing Hargrove, perhaps the first man ever to make white shorts, a white blazer and a necktie look stylish. The first few songs of the set were upbeat funk numbers that showcased Hargrove’s impeccable timing, control and power. Vocalist and keyboardist Renee Neufville took center stage for a few vocal numbers mid-set.

Despite Neufville’s considerable talent, the moody nature and slow tempo of the material, coupled with Hargrove’s extended absences from the stage, took the energy out of the performance. Hargrove returned to sing Funkadelic’s “I’ll Stay,” and then reignited the audience by exploding into “One Nation Under a Groove” and “We Want the Funk” before exiting the stage. These were undoubtedly the highlights of a set that otherwise felt mechanical and emotionally lacking.

Before Palmieri and his band began their set, it was announced that Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor was in the audience. Palmieri stated that he was touched that she was in attendance, and dedicated his first song to her, the rousing “Muñeca.” Without pause, Palmieri and his band blazed into “Ajaico Caliente” and “Azucar,” never slowing in tempo or losing energy. Though the set was only three songs in length due to the rain delay, Palmieri stole the show with his group’s raucous energy and impeccable musicianship. Unlike the RH Factor, Palmieri’s band visibly fed off each other, driving each other through the breathless set. Each horn player earned applause for his solos, but Palmieri’s rhythm section was the true star of the show. Led by Palmieri’s left-hand and featuring bassist Luques Curtis and multiple percussionists, the propulsive rhythm got people up and dancing, no small feat on wet grass seven hours into the show.

Originally Published