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Review: Newport Jazz Festival 2012

Bill Beuttler reports on the highlights from Rhode Island

Dr. John headlined opening night at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
Jack DeJohnette performed with his own band and an all-star septet at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
Guitarist Bill Frisell at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
Guitarist Pat Metheny’s Unity Band featuring saxophonist Chris Potter closed out Saturday’s performances at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
Singer Kurt Elling performed with his quartet and John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quinter +1 band at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
The 3 Cohens – trumpeter Avishai, clarinetist/tenor saxophonist Anat and soprano saxophonist Yuval -- were a main stage favorite at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
Alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón performed with his Rayuela Quartet at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
A two-hour blues set by the 11-member Tedeschi Trucks Band, featuring singer Susan Tedeschi and her husband, Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks, closed out the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival
Singer Dianne Reeves at the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival

George Wein has overseen the Newport Jazz Festival since its 1954 debut, but for this year’s incarnation of the granddaddy of outdoor jazz festivals he put the emphasis on the music’s future: Jason Moran, Miguel Zenón, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Gretchen Parlato, Lionel Loueke, Jenny Scheinman, John Hollenbeck, Ambrose Akinmusire, the 3 Cohens … The list goes on and on with artists either at or still approaching their primes, with a sprinkling of slightly older, more established jazz stars-Jack DeJohnette, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Lewis Nash, Kurt Elling, Dianne Reeves, et al.-around for seasoning, and very little of the pop-oriented stuff that sometimes nearly dominated festivals of years past.

The festival kicked off on Friday night, as it has in recent years, with a slightly showier (and dressier) opening event at the Newport-based Tennis Hall of Fame, with Dr. John as this year’s headliner and a focus on New Orleans. But the night commenced with Wein himself playing alone at the piano for a few bars, soon to be joined by clarinetist Charlie Gabriel of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Gabriel’s Preservation Hall cohorts joined him onstage next for a lively set that built to the inevitable “When the Saints Go Marching In” and included singing by trumpeter Mark Braud, tenor saxophonist Clint Maedgen and guest vocalist Catherine Russell. The young pianist Jonathan Batiste played a dazzling solo set featuring a lushly embellished instrumental exploration of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and his charming, dramatic vocals on “St. James Infirmary.” Dr. John wrapped up the evening with a strong set ranging from old hits (“Right Place, Wrong Time”) to tunes from his new album (Locked Down), with Russell coming back out to join him on two songs (“Makin’ Whoopee,” “Save the Bones for Henry Jones”) and energized by the horns of trombonist Sarah Morrow and saxophonist Ronnie Cuber. (Cuber, of all people, played the whole night on tenor sax, which worked to the detriment of “Revolution,” which on the new album is built around a grippingly infectious baritone sax line.)

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