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Live Review: 2018 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

The California bash featured Marcus Roberts, Vincent Herring, Jane Monheit, and Eddie Gale, among many others

Marcus Roberts with the Modern Jazz Generation at the 2018 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest
Marcus Roberts (at piano) with the Modern Jazz Generation at the 2018 San Jose Jazz Summer Fest (photo: Walter Wagner)

Now in its 29th year of operation, geographically and artistically positioned between the SFJAZZ season and the Monterey Jazz Festival, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest (which ran from Aug. 10-12 in downtown San Jose, Calif.) presented a balanced roster of jazz, blues/New Orleans, and Latin-oriented artists on 12 outdoor and indoor stages. For the most part, its program was palatable and wide-ranging, never extreme or driven by big names. The prevailing atmosphere was a mixture of discovery for newbies and reaffirmation for longtime fans. Concurrently, popular soul and funk performers such as Johnny Gill, Confunkshun, Kool & the Gang, Booker T.’s Stax Revue, the Soul Rebels, Lalah Hathaway, and local favorites Lydia Pense & Cold Blood with Fred Ross were included for uninitiated attendees and/or those disinterested in jazz who just wanted to party.

Unquestionably, the most vibrant and daring segment of SJJS was its last, featuring Marcus Roberts and the Modern Jazz Generation, which the blind virtuoso pianist, currently on faculty at Florida State University, founded in 2012. The tentet was anchored by longtime Roberts associates, drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Rodney Jordan; the remaining members, all brass players, are either alumni or current students in FSU’s music program. Under Roberts, Marsalis, and Jordan’s guidance, the ensemble played an ambitious, nearly two-hour suite (and that was its length after dropping a movement) that profoundly showcased all the players. Similar to Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Orchestra but in a more modern context, they swung hard through complex arrangements and entertained the audience by focusing on romantic themes. The suite was based on an imaginary couple going through the four stages of love: attraction, projection, conflict, and resolution, beginning with the dramatic “The Mystery of Romance.”

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