The rain cut down on my desire to move around the grounds, so I probably missed some good sets on Saturday. I did manage to catch another fine set by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, totally different than the one they had played the previous evening, but one still reflective of Newport Jazz Festival history. The highlights included a scintillating orchestration of Paul Desmond’s classic “Take Five.” There was also a powerful version of the second movement,”Resolution,” of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” and a lovely voyage through the third movement, “Symphonette,” of Ellington’s “Black, Brown, & Beige,” that featured the Orchestra’s saxophone section on the sublime closing section of the song.
Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue closed the festival on Saturday. Like Jon Batiste, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is a very talented young musician from New Orleans, and a great showman. Unfortunately, he has chosen to surround himself with a heavy funk rock band that doesn’t do a thing for me. The band is designed to be a crowd pleaser, and to some it extent it succeeds in that regard, but I’d like to see Andrews in more of a jazz setting.
The weather was a little better on Sunday, meaning the rain was a little more intermittent, and the day was chock full of great music. One of my favorite sets of the festival came from the pianist Vijay Iyer and his sextet. Iyer, who is usually found in a trio or solo setting, expanded his group for the festival appearance, and it paid off big time. It was one of those sets that I couldn’t tear myself away from even though there were other artists that I wanted to see. In addition to Iyer’s brilliant piano, the front line horn section of Mark Shin on tenor sax, Steve Lehman on soprano sax, and Graham Haynes on cornet acquitted themselves nobly on tunes set of long, intricate, involving tunes that were filled with world music influences.
Alto sax legend Lee Konitz is 86 years-old, and if not for the presence of festival founder George Wein, who performed with his Newport All-Stars, Konitz would probably have been the oldest performer at the festival. Konitz is a little short of wind these days, and admits to hitting a few bad notes now and then (which he says are “in the spirit of improvisation”), but his magnificent tone is intact. He displayed it on classics like “Stella By Starlight” and “Body and Soul” before inviting young sax phenom Grace Kelly to join him on stage for “317 East 32nd Street,” and “Darn That Darn.”
It was back to the main stage for the Mingus Big Band. All I could think about when I was watching them was that they are sort of the anti-Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and that’s not a bad thing. Mingus would have been proud of this bunch of hipsters as they romped through tunes of his like “Invisible Lady,” and “Fables of Faubus.” As long as this band is around, the music of Charles Mingus will not only not be forgotten, it will gain new fans wherever they play.
Another of my favorite sets of the weekend came courtesy of the Ron Carter Trio. Carter is probably the most recorded bass player in history. His career is a virtual lesson in history of jazz over the last 50 years or more. His trio on Sunday included the brilliant guitarist Russell Malone, and piano player Donald Vega. The biggest crowd of the weekend at the Harbor Stage packed in for the trio’s set.
The Ron Carter Trio didn’t do anything cutting edge, unless you consider a wonderful performance that ably showed off each player’s formidable skills to be cutting edge. I certainly do. Ron Carter played “My Funny Valentine” while he was a member of the great Miles Davis Quintet in the ’60s. To see him play it live is simply an honor. What made it even more special was the sight of a young man proposing marriage, and a young lady accepting the proposal, while the trio played the old chestnut. Malone closed the song with a solo guitar section which was as close to perfection as anything I’ve ever heard played on the instrument.
The festival came to an end for me with a fine set by the Gary Burton New Quartet. The group, which featured drummer Marcus Gilmore, guitarist Julian Lage, Vadim Neselovskyi on piano, bass player Jorge Roeder, and of course Burton on vibes, offered fine versions of Neselovskyi’s “Late Night Sunrise,” Lage’s “The Lookout,” and Burton’s own “Remembering Tano,” before closing with a tribute to the legendary vibist Milt Jackson by way of a reading of Jackson’s classic “Bag’s Groove.”
As I said at the start, it’s been several years since my last Newport Jazz Festival. That won’t happen again. I’m already counting the days to the 61st anniversary of the venerable festival. Long may it run.