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Tanglewood Jazz Festival

Lenox, Mass., Sept. 4-6, 2009

Paquito D'Rivera
John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molaskey record "Radio Deluxe"
Paquito D'Rivera
Kat Edmonson performs in the Jazz Café tent
Mulgrew Miller & Kenny Barron duet at Tanglewood

In recent years, programmers have been exploring ways to add classical twists to the annual Tanglewood Jazz Festival. It’s an idea that can work given the setting, the longtime western Massachusetts summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

It worked well in 2008 when the weekend highlights included Boston pianist Donal Fox’s “Scarlatti Jazz Suite Project” and trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s “A Tale of God’s Will” performance with 35-piece orchestra. This year, the effort to expand and strengthen that bridge between jazz and classical had mixed results during what was a very strong weekend overall, both in the range of programming and the performances themselves.

Paquito D’Rivera brought a new slant to the traditional Friday night Latin evening, which in the past has often had a dance-party atmosphere. In his weekend highlight performance, D’Rivera offered a great blend of jazz and classical in his three-part concerto, “Conversations With Cachao,” which featured Robert Black on bass. During his solos, which alternated beautifully with D’Rivera on alto sax and clarinet, Black sometimes used his double bass like a percussion instrument for dramatic effect.

Also strong was D’Rivera’s “Panamericana,” a work that he described as his tribute to all of America, “from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego,” with exotic instrumentation that included Cuban bata drums, Colombian harp and bandoneón from Argentina. The band’s take on late Cuban bandleader Orestes López’s danzón arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” segued into Piazzolla’s “Libertango.” To make the Tanglewood synthesis complete, D’Rivera’s own “To Brenda With Love” wound down the evening, fittingly, with a Bach coda.

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