LIVE: Monterey Jazz on Tour @ Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 3/19/19
Review by Jeff Nania
Photographs by Rudy Lu
Last month’s presentation of the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was much more than a group taking the stage and showcasing their wares. In fact, the evening went to many places stylistically and even saw members leave and return to stage in various permutations — essentially creating a scaled down version of the various things one might expect at the actual festival in just a few hours time.
The evening began with all six members on stage, but started out slowly with just pianist/music director Christian Sands accompanying vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant on her original composition “Fog.”
These slow, pared down vocal intros are a signature of the vocalist who looks around the audience as she sings, and they have the feel of a dramatic monologue being delivered to every person individually as her steadfast eyes seem to look you right in the soul.
The duo then gave way to a brash sonic blare from the gong-like cymbals of drummer Jamison Ross and sparse tonal colors from upright bassist Yasushi Nakamura.
Trumpeter Bria Skonberg and tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana entered the texture with chordal pads as the group’s montage swelled like the tide.
Salvant’s incredible breath support was immediately apparent as she would hold out these sweet notes over the texture with her arm crossing her body, and she seemed to be literally holding the note in the palm of her hand.
Just as these swells seemed to end and the audience was ready to clap, the group broke into an abrupt bright swing and suddenly it was almost like listening to a cut-off of the iconic Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley album with Salvant’s almost show-tuney cadence as the horns swelled in the pitch and volume as Ross let loose across the full drum kit.
Skonberg stepped back from the microphone listening to the rest of the group with a smile on her face as she danced around clearly enjoying her colleagues’ talents.
True to Salvant’s style, the song’s conclusion returned to piano and vocals as she sang out “disappearing into skiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiies” with a long, low-bowed note from Nakamura and screeches emanating from Ross’ cymbals.
Salvant’s autographic style was apparent throughout the night with another of her originals called “Splendor” complete with the vocal soliloquy and light piano accompaniment as she sang “I’ve never not had a crush, I’ve always been too much,” while she gazed around the crowd and held the mic close before breaking into a medium swing and singing “I’m in love with a splendiforous feeling.”
Aldana took one of many solos of the night and tonally quoted “camptown races sing a song, doo daa” before Sands took one and quoted Sonny Rollin’s “Tenor Madness” and layed down long passages with both hands in octaves.
After the tune finished, Salvant said “that faster part of the last song was about five years old and the first part was about three weeks old,” showing just how fresh some of the evening’s material really was.
She then introduced the next piece, saying “This next song doesn’t really have a name yet, it’s just called “Moon Song” right now, and the verse was written by Melissa Aldana so we both wrote the song.”
She then handed it over to Aldana for an in-the-clear tenor intro that was carefully plotted and showcased her almost Sonny Rollins or Coleman Hawkins-ish sound with lots of reedy scoops into notes and big old honks on the low end while still maintaining a relaxed cadence.
Aldana was joined by a rumble from Sands piano, and Salvant sang “If you should love me, don’t ever tell me… Show it – that’s how I’ll know it.”
Aldana was also featured on a more modern sounding original of hers called “Acceptance” in which Salvant left the stage.
The piece began with open modern sounding piano statements with a driving drum part and horns playing a longer winding melody almost like a Mark Turner/Kurt Rosenwinkel kind of thing melodically and stylistically.
Aldana took a solo right out of the melody and the group broke down in volume while still maintaining that pressing drive as she physically moved up and down as she played, even nodding her head to one side as she stepped back from her horn momentarily seeming to listen for the next stream of musical thoughts.
She maintained that almost Hank Mobley/Sonny Rollins-ish sound with a buzzy sweetness but with the long fluid Mark Turner lines that soared into the altissimo.
Sands took it after a huge build from Aldana that seemed to break through a new plane leaving the audience with an almost Bad Plus like piano trio and Ross’ drums still chugging along insistently.
Ross was also featured as a leader this night as he addressed the crowd saying “most people know me as a drummer but I’ve been singing for a long time – so this next one pays homage to the singing drummers,” and they began an original composition of his called “A Sack Full of Dreams.”
Still sitting behind the kit he sang out “I’ve got a dream for the world” over a sparse and contemplative piano part, and the bass and horns entered with muted trumpet and lower octave tenor stuff.
“I’ve got a dream for the world,” Ross sang, “peace in the rivers and everywhere.” He continued “lighting a cigarette to blow time away – people on sidewalks with no place to go, can they learn to understand the world of love?”
There was a brief horn passage followed by a bass solo by Nakamura in which he sounded almost like an old wise man singing over the cool tempo and pleasant rainy day city sidewalk vibe.
The group broke to Ross who took his time in an a capella passage as people yelled out “that’s right” after his winding gospel cadenzas which even went into “What a Wonderful World.”
Ross and Salvant were not the only vocalists to be featured this evening, as Skonberg took the stage for an old timey number inspired by Valaida Snow complete with a call and response with the audience in which Skonberg said “I say hi, hi and you say ho, ho.”
Sands took an almost Fats Waller-ish solo and Skonberg got the audience clapping before taking a Louis Armstrong-style trumpet solo with the little shakes at the end of her notes.
Nakamura showed off his trad-jazz chops with a little walking bass solo, even slapping the strings against the finger board while Ross patted his drumsticks on the rims of the drums.
Toward the end of the night Nakamura got a chance to show off an original of his called “Yasugaloo,” as Sands got the crowd clapping along to the boogaloo rhythm. The tune had little breaks where the horns entered with the melody almost like the late Roy Hargrove’s arrangement of Cedar Walton’s tune “I’m Not So Sure” from Hargrove’s record Earfood.
The first solo break was a stream of blazing fast tenor sax from Aldana, followed by a conversational interplay between Nakamura, and Ross with Sands reaching into the grand piano slightly muting a driving static accompaniment.
Sands, as music director of the evening had promised many different styles of music from the various bandleaders of the evening — saying there’d be “some bop, maybe even some classical,” and sure enough he said, “We’re going to break down to a trio for now,” as they went to the book of the composer Puccini and his opera Tosca, playing a dramatic rendition about the main character as he’s about to be executed as it appears in the tune “E Lucevan Le Stelle.”
Sands began with a Spanish sounding minor prelude that took its time while existing outside of straight time with a gentle push and pull. He then elicited some waves of chords that seemed to overlap on itself with sustain and an almost fugue-ish passage before a quick single note bumble bee-esque passage.
Ross and Nakamura entered with large brushes on the biggest tom tom and ride cymbal creating an almost choppy texture while the piano and bass took on a heroic quality. There was an intense left hand roll on the piano and Ross used mallets on the toms almost like timpani.
Ross used his mallets again at the finish of the tune as he pinged a cymbal like a gunshot from a firing squad just as the character died in the opera.
“You having a good time? Say yeah!” Sands shouted out to a return response from the crowd as he explained, “We’re having so much fun up here it’s a crime!”
“We’re going to invite up our horns again and play an original composition of mine “ Sands said. “Who’s been to Cuba?” A few hoots from the audience. “This song is in Spanish and is called “Oye Me,” and if you don’t know Spanish, in English this is still called “Oye Me.”
“If you feel like dancing around please do because this is what this is for,” he said as the rhythm section broke into a fast rhumba groove.
Aldana and Skonberg traded choruses, and during one of Skonberg’s passages Ross and Sands kept hitting over and over again on the same note and beat creating a tension that eventually made the time ambigious before breaking right back into the groove.
Ross got to show off his drum chops as Sands played a static groove and Ross soloed in such a way that you could always hear the melody.
After a night that was filled with all different styles of music and arrangements of musicians, Sands asked the crowd, “You want to hear one more?”
Salvant reemerged, approaching the front of the stage and without the assistance of a microphone filled the room as she repeatedly sang “I try to keep our love going strong.”
“No matter how hard I try, something went wrong,” she continued as her voice alternated cheerful and then reedy.
“I cried when you decided to go…I cried much more than you’ll ever know…”
Then it was just Ross at the drums and also singing as Skonberg and Salvant also sang standing in front of Nakamura, and it was like an old spiritual tune with three-part vocal harmony as they all sang these same lyrics before finishing the night as they sang, “I will die with the ghost of our long lost love.”
GO HERE to see more of Rudy Lu’s photographs of this concert…