For me summer officially begins at noon on Saturday of the Jazz Festival at SPAC. I look forward to it all year long, in part knowing that I will be moved by people that I had never heard before.
Opening the festival at noon on the main stage was the Lionel Loueke Trio. Louke’s guitar had many voices and textures. Some of the selections reflected his West African heritage, while others would have fit comfortably in jazz fusion. On some of the songs, he also provided vocals, but not in the usual sense; these sounds seemed to come from another species.
Knowing that I could catch him later at the gazebo, I left his set early to hear Marcus Strickland’s quartet, who wowed the gazebo audience with inventive playing all around. Hilary Kole and her trio followed Marcus at the gazebo. They did a set largely composed of standards. The warmth of her voice and the accompaniment of her band worked well together. Eliane Elias and her group provided a lesson in bossa nova. Working largely from her most recent album “Light My Fire”, her set was enthusiastically received with several standing ovations. Kudos to the percussionist who provided her with great support.
Late afternoon and it was time for the Jack DeJohnette Quintet. Jack is truly an iconic figure in jazz. He and his group – featuring Rudresh Mahanthappa on sax and Dave Fiucznski on guitar – were outstanding.
The evening brought Dee Dee Bridgewater and her set was the most playful, soulful, sexual and gut wrenching of the day. Billed as a tribute to Billie Holliday and featuring songs such as “All of Me” and Mother’s Son-In-Law” her show kept building and by the end of her last song, “God Bless The Child,” the amphitheater erupted in the loudest standing ovation of the day.
Michael McDonald and his band concluded the first day’s festivities. His set was career spanning and covered some of hits with the Doobie Brothers, his solo records that followed and the more recent Motown albums. With his trademark voice in fine form and a tight band with excellent backing vocals behind him, his set was well received.
Review by Richard Brody
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk