June 16, 2008

Strumming, Drumming & A Bit O' Be-Bop -- RIJF Days 3 & 4

I called my pops Saturday morning to meekly beggar off a drive home for the weekend -- it is after all, Jazz Fest, right? Actually, I had been home a couple weeks earlier to celebrate an early Father's Day while my brother was in town from the land of Jersey, so I didn't feel as guilty.

Was it worth it? Am I a bad daughter if I say it was?

Howard Alden

The highlight of Day 3 took place at the Montage where Howard Alden graced us with his seven-stringed guitar and wowed the crowd with some of the best jazz guitar I've heard to date. His numbers ranged from Cole Porter to Django Reinhardt to selections from The Sweet and Lowdown soundtrack he was responsible for. Alden joked that Sean Penn was his most successful student while humbly taking credit for the Oscar Penn would win a few years later for a totally different movie (he insisted that learning the guitar was instrumental -- pun not intended -- to the character he portrayed in Mystic River). Though often paying homage to his own inspirational greats, Alden gave each tribute his own flavor and flair. This was a truly wonderful experience.

Though he finished late after starting late, we still made it to the church for Jacob Anderskov's 7:30 performance. Here's the thing about Anderskov. He's brilliant. His technique, his phrasing, his emoting -- all flawless. He was introduced as one about to "have a conversation with himself." Well, with all due respect, the conversation was extremely languid and exhausting. I kept thinking, "just spit it out, please." I felt as if the hobbits must have when speaking to the Ents. Try as I might, I could not sit this one through and after the third piece, left with Christine to get some air and a bite to eat.

We tried to catch up with her sister and brother-in-law at the tent to see Alison Brown and her banjo but it was not our fate. The longish line was not moving, so we wandered over to the stands so I could have my dinner, thinking we had a better shot of getting to the tent a little later. We were lucky enough to grab a table and a couple seats despite the vulture-like hovering everyone was guilty of exhibiting. The guys having stayed through Anderskov's set eventually found us after they too were unable to get into the tent.

We opted to stay outdoors and give JazzKamikaze a listen. I liked the young band, despite a few missteps. They were energetic and certainly gave their all to their rock-ish performance. We stayed until the threat of precipitation actualized into rather large droplets and called it a night. It's a good thing we left at that point, too. The lightning was flashing non-stop during my short drive home.

Cindy Blackman Quartet

I had a light enough day at work that I was able to head out a little early (I anticipate I'll be doing this a bit this week) to get in line for the Cindy Blackman Quartet. Lenny Kravitz's drummer was simply a force to be reckoned with. She just kept pumping out beat after beat, the raw power never waning, and in fact just getting richer and richer. It was impossible to take my eyes off of her -- she was mesmerizing. It was a good way to start off Day 4.

We contemplated our musical options and that point and decided instead to have a proper dinner. We popped into a nearby Asian eatery and I introduced my cohorts to the delectable Chinese dessert, the egg custard pastry. Tummies full, we wandered over to the Tent and caught a bit of the tap-dancing, singing trombonist, Todd Londagin and his quartet before heading to the Kilbourn line.

Seth was excited to see Lou Donaldson and I was not opposed (though the sight of the line had us momentarily apprehensive about whether we were actually going to wait it out.) Boy, am I glad we did.

The foursome was Absolutely Magical.

I could have listened to the band play all night, and still not get enough. The 81-year old saxophonist frequently made fun of himself for his age and for his ways, but the old-timer still has what it takes to put on a good show. My eyes told me were sitting in Kilbourn Hall. My ears and my heart told me we were sitting in one of those old school jazz clubs, just whiling the night away. The ensemble never missed a beat, and never missed a chance to highlight each other's talents. Watching them play was like being at a party that was so much fun you hated to see it end. By far, the most pleasant discovery of the evening was organist Akiko Tsuruga (hailing from "Mississippi") who manipulated the organ as if it were an extension of herself. At rest, she exuded innocence. At play, she was a raging beauty. On reflection, she is to the organ as Cindy Blackman is to her drums.

All in all, a fabulous night. Can't wait til tomorrow.

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