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Review: Monterey Jazz Festival

Fantastic drumming and an all-star tribute to Quincy Jones among highlights

Christian McBride (left) and Hubert Laws pay homage to Quincy Jones at the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival
With his quartet and a 10-piece wind ensemble conducted by Nicole Paiement, Wayne Shorter premieres “The Unfolding” at the 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival

When you’re watching a set and thinking, “I’ve never heard Brian Blade play better,” well, the jazz stars have aligned and all portents look promising for a great weekend of music. In this case, the aligning stars consisted of saxophonist Joshua Redman, cornetist Ron Miles and bassist Scott Colley, in the West Coast debut of the new collective quartet Still Dreaming. Inspired by the great Ornette-adjacent quartet Old and New Dreams with Dewey Redman, Ed Blackwell, Charlie Haden and Don Cherry, Still Dreaming helped to open the 59th Monterey Jazz Festival with loose-limbed grit and capering grace, as Blade made every tune feel like it was designed for dancing. Joshua joked at one point that the project “is a tribute to a tribute band, which is kind of postmodern,” but there wasn’t a jot of air-quote irony in the performance, whether the quartet was playing Cherry’s seductively sinuous “Guinea” and Dewey’s scorching “Rushour,” or originals like Joshua’s spaciously lowdown “Blues for Charlie” and Colley’s buoyantly bouncing “New Year” (which sounded like kissing kin to Ornette’s “Una Muy Bonita”).

Redman and Blade performed in various situations throughout the Sept. 16-18 weekend, with the Bad Plus Joshua Redman offering another avenue through which the saxophonist is addressing the legacy of his father, one of jazz’s more fascinating recent midlife adventures. Blade displayed a completely different facet of his boundless rhythmic palette during a brush-centric set with John Patitucci’s Electric Guitar Quartet, and combined volatility with the utmost sensitivity on the world premiere of Wayne Shorter’s “The Unfolding.” Written for his celebrated quartet and the 10-piece Monterey Jazz Festival Wind Ensemble, conducted by Nicole Paiement, the 25-minute piece mapped a previously uncharted but recognizably Shorter-ian corner of his expansive harmonic universe-a parsec filled with swirling, interlocked melodic lines and bright, flashing cadences (particularly around the reed system).

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