Review and photographs by Rudy Lu
In the form of a giant fine painting by Mark Carson English, Charles Mingus’ spirit was smiling down upon the fairy tale-like Venetian Theater at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts, the home of the 20th annual Caramoor Jazz Festival in Katonah. Over the course two days and three nights, the audience was treated to the sparkling sights and sounds of the world’s finest jazz.
The presence of three big bands added to the grandeur of the festival, including the critically acclaimed Charles Tolliver Big Band, who played a strong set on Saturday that included originals as well as arrangements of well known music originally performed by John Coltrane. Notable among the originals was “The Emperor’s March,” inspired by a film about Emperor Penguins and “Along the Nile,” a Coltranesque jazz journey through Egypt. Also included was a performance of JC’s interpretation of the traditional folk song, “Greensleeves,” as well as the ballad “I Want to Talk About You.” For the final number of the set, trumpeter Tolliver told the audience to guess the tune. It was the old standard, Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” This band is widely acclaimed in Europe; it certainly deserves more attention on this side of the pond. (Special note to Nippertonians: The piano bench was filled by Theo Hill, a young piano player with roots here, who is currently making a big splash in the Big Apple.)
Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis’ Uptown Jazz Orchestra created a NOLA party to end the Saturday night performance. Their set was peppered with classic tunes by Count Basie and Duke Ellington, as well as a selection of NOLA-influenced originals. The entrance and exit of Delfeayo was lead by Grand Marshall Percy Ellis, who lead a colorful second-line parade at the end of the performance.
The Charles Mingus Big Band played excerpts from Mingus’ classic 1963 albums including:
Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus, Mingus
The Black Saint and Sinner Lady
Mingus Plays Piano
Led by the intrepid saxophonist Alex Foster, the band displayed the many complex moods and colors of Mingus’ music. Avant-garde trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy doubled up on vocals, including the Joni Mitchell lyrics for “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Helen Sung played a stunning solo piano performance.
The festival also had a pair of piano soloists in its weekend line-up. The ultramodern Jazz Journalists Association Award-winning Vijay Iyer played a mighty interesting set that confounded some, but intrigued others. Benito Gonzalez played a more straight-ahead set.
Also in the more straight-ahead vein, the Adam Makowicz Trio played a beautiful set of standards. Special attention was paid to melody for a crowd-pleasing set.
Not to be outdone by his older brother, Jason Marsalis’ band played an outstanding set with Jason frequently standing aside from his vibraphone to watch his seasoned band perform. To this photographer, it was a treat to be able to photograph this fine band under concert lighting rather than face the challenges of nightclub lighting (the jazz photographer’s most frequently repeated phrase? “The lighting sucks”).
Hammond B3 organ trios are always fun to listen to, and James Carter’s thrilling trio was no different, as organist Gerard Gibbs and drummer Leonard King proved to be perfect foils for Carter’s virtuoso and solidly swinging sax playing.
The global reach of America’s classical music was represented by Elio Villafranca’s Latin jazz set that featured the flamenco-influenced dancing of Julia Loiza Gutiérrez-Rivera. And transporting jazz back to its home roots in Africa, guitarist Lionel Loueke and his trio delivered a dynamic performance with electric instruments.
Throughout the festival, the quality of the sound was outstanding, especially considering the wide variety of instruments and settings.
It’s too bad the festival was sparsely attended this year. I am looking forward to seeing this festival again next year… hopefully with a stronger turnout.