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Review: The 2015 Newport Jazz Festival

A wide-ranging program and warm, sunny weather at this jazz institution

Drummer Johnathan Blake leads a band featuring bassist Ben Street and saxophonists Chris Potter (top) and Mark Turner at the Newport Jazz Festival 2015. (Note festival founder George Wein at back.)
Gerald Clayton, Newport Jazz Festival 2015
(clockwise from drums) Made in Chicago featuring Jack DeJohnette, Henry Threadgill, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams and Larry Gray; Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Pat Martino, Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Scott Robinson plays contrabass sax at the Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Maria Schneider, Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Jon Batiste, Newport Jazz Festival 2015
George Wein (l.), founder of the Newport Jazz Festival, at the 2015 event with 12-year-old pianist Joey Alexander
Marquis Hill, Jon Faddis and Sean Jones (from left); Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Lou Donaldson, Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Jamie Cullum, Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Matana Roberts, Newport Jazz Festival 2015
Steve Lehman, Newport Jazz Festival 2015

Three days of sunny skies drew audiences totaling nearly 20,000 to Fort Adams State Park for the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival, where temperatures in the upper 80s didn’t seem excessively hot compared to the music emanating from the Fort’s three outdoor stages. The festival’s method of mixing hardcore jazz with more broadly appealing fare, meanwhile, gave aficionados a renewed appreciation of the old adage regarding early birds and worms.

For the second year a full Friday of music took place at the Fort, and again it was a day geared primarily toward artists new to the festival. It started with big bands from the University of Rhode Island and the Berklee College of Music on the Harbor and main Fort stages, respectively. Kicking things off on the mid-sized Quad stage was Ambrose Akinmusire’s quartet, performing pieces from the trumpeter’s pair of critically acclaimed Blue Note albums. Those with a long morning journey to Fort Adams also risked missing the unusually strong and overlapping second sets on the three stages. On the Harbor stage was personal-history-minded alto saxophonist and composer Matana Roberts, whose set-long “Mississippi Moonchile” was highlighted by Jason Palmer’s trumpet work and Roberts reading Bible passages her great great grandfather had copied to teach himself to read at age 40. On the Quad stage, Steve Lehman led his octet on “Rudreshm” and selections from his Mise en Abîme album, winner of the 2014 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll. Throughout the band’s performance, Chris Dingman’s vibraphone added an otherworldly underpinning to the precision horn lines of Lehman’s alto sax and Jonathan Finlayson’s trumpet, and to Tyshawn Sorey’s ferocious drumming. Out front on the Fort stage, drummer Johnathan Blake led an all-star quartet of tenor saxophone titans Mark Turner and Chris Potter and bassist Ben Street through modernist classics.

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