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Review: The 26th Annual San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

An urban alternative

Etienne Charles, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2015
Sylvia Cuenca, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2015
Jesus Diaz, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2015
Letieres Leite, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest 2015

Bright moments. San Jose Jazz’s annual Summer Fest positively brimmed with them, from the celebratory opening set by the rising San Francisco funk/disco combo Con Brio through the wee-hours Saturday night/Sunday morning Rahsaanathon at Café Stritch, which by savvy booking and attrition has emerged in the past year as the Bay Area’s hippest jazz club. With 13 venues arrayed around San Jose’s downtown Plaza de Cesar Chavez, Summer Fest is now the Bay Area’s other world-class summer jazz festival, offering an urban alternative to the sylvan setting of the Monterey County Fairgrounds (the Stanford Jazz Festival is also first-rate, but it’s a concert series rather than a concentrated musical maelstrom a la the Monterey Jazz Festival).

Running Aug. 7-9, the 26th Annual Summer Fest featured a wealth of salsa, Latin jazz, Puerto Rican plena and various Brazilian styles, building on San Jose Jazz’s embrace of Afro-Caribbean musical currents as jazz’s kin. So it was more a delight than a surprise to find Cuban conga master Jesus Diaz leading a captivating rumba session on the back of a box truck customized to serve as a bandstand on Friday evening featuring Michael Spiro and vocalist Fito Reynoso. Nearby, the muscular Detroit funk outfit Will Sessions gave a master class in instrumental R&B while an impressive break dance crew took turns showing off their increasingly agile moves in sync to the grooves. But Friday’s high point wasn’t actually a San Jose Jazz event.

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