The other day, I was kinda/sorta whining about how the “younger than me” thing is happening more and more lately. That was in the context of an interview I did with Kyle Eastwood, whose quintet would close JATL later on this day. Now, as good as he looks (and Andrzej’s camera does not lie), Kyle Eastwood is still 43 years old. That’s not “doddering” by a long shot, but with Grace Kelly torching Shepard Park the previous day and Charles Cornell leading off the show on this day, even Eastwood would have been excused for thinking, “Damn, those are kids playing that shit!”
Cornell may only be a freshman at SUNY Purchase, but JATL director Paul Pines did not hesitate about calling the Hartford, NY native “the future.” Leading a tight, professional quartet made up of two high-school seniors and the head of the Schuylerville High School music program, Cornell set a great tone for the beautiful sunny afternoon with a tasty hour-long set of trad jazz. The opening piece had elements that made you say, “I know that one! It’s a standard! Who wrote that?” The tune was “Visions,” and it was a Cornell original! “Blue in Green” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” are gold-plated standards, but Cornell took enough off of the Cannonball Adderly classic to almost make it intimate, and Bill Evans wouldn’t have recognized the cruising soul-jazz arrangement Cornell had given “Blue” for a Purchase class assignment.
While some of Cornell’s solos didn’t flow as well as they could have, his technical foundation was rock-solid – not surprising, since he’s a former student of our own Lee Shaw, and piano masters David Hazeltine and Pete Malinverni are among his current instructors. Cornell’s performance reminded me of when another Purchase freshman did a “command cameo” during Jon Faddis’ JATL set in 2006. That freshman was Dylan Canterbury, and look how well that turned out. Like Canterbury back then, Charles Cornell has the drive and the tools. Let’s see how he sounds after he gets some miles under his belt.With a sound that’s a mash-up of Eastern folk traditions and Western jazz aesthetics, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s music is a rich meal for anyone. But this was Apex, Mahanthappa’s blinding collaboration with Charles Mingus alum Bunky Green, and that’s about as intense as anything on offer today. We’re talking two alto sax wizards who do their best work outside the box, and they were primed to kick cerebellums and take names. Rudresh started in the clear with “Welcome”, a piece that’s as close to the religious definition of “meditation” as it comes. That led into the raw intensity of “Summit,” where Mahanthappa’s East-to-West attack came together with Green’s West-looking-East approach. The resulting sound was unlike anything I can name. There were no words, let alone metaphors, and Matt Mitchell’s stunning piano work only made it better. This was the essence of Free Jazz – free from fear or boundaries.
The set stuck primarily to music from Apex’s lone CD, although Mahanthappa threw in material from his amazing new disc “Samdhi” as well as his Carnatic Jazz excursion “Kinsmen.” Those who got this music got it in spades; more than a few people compared it to a religious experience. Those who didn’t? Well, they basically took cover behind books and magazines. (One man sitting next to me was doing the NY Times crossword puzzle). The thing is, though, those books disappeared one by one as the set progressed, and at the end, the whole crowd was on its feet, cheering wildly.
If I had to find a name for Kyle Eastwood’s music, it would be “West Coast Soul.” There are lots of elements that were the foundation for Creed Taylor’s CTI label, and Eastwood admitted to us that his tune “Cosmo” was written with Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters” in mind. (“Or maybe I’d watched too many ‘Starsky & Hutch’ episodes,” he added off-handedly.) But following the soul sound that makes your head bob is a cool California vibe that makes you go “Mmmmmmmmmmm…” This combination hit us right from the jump when Eastwood led off with “Marciac,” a track from his new CD “Songs from the Chateau.” As with every piece in the set (including music from his soundtrack for “Letters from Iwo Jima”), “Marciac” had immaculate construction that reached everyone in the crowd, and yet still left enough room for the players to play. Tenorman Jason Rigby’s sound was warm and infectious, and he made a terrific front line with horn player Alexander Norris.
As accomplished as he is as a composer, Eastwood isn’t getting by on his good looks when it comes to playing. Splitting time between a cut-down acoustic bass and two 5-string Fenders, Eastwood displayed an aggressive attack, a satisfyingly fat tone and smart solos that were on par with his compositions. A lot of festivals choose their closing acts to make the walk to the parking lot more enjoyable, but that’s not how they do things at Lake George. The Kyle Eastwood Band had us riveted right to the very end, and that’s how you wrap up a summer.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk at Albany Jazz