A jazzy day at Tanglewood [an error occurred while processing this directive]
by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., September 1, 2002) – From Joey DeFrancesco’s organ jazz to Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz,” from Roy Haynes’s bebop revue to Diana Krall’s intimate jazz standards, Saturday’s program at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival was the jazziest in years.

That’s not always the case and nothing to take for granted. “Jazz” is a catch-all term, and in past years festival programmers have played fast and loose with it. But this year’s lineup, with a few exceptions, adhered closely to a traditionalist’s sense of jazz, while celebrating the diversity of styles and approaches that tradition embraces.

Singer-pianist Diana Krall brought down the curtain on the evening’s program in the Shed with a stripped-down set of pop standards. Backed by a trio of guitar, bass and drums, Krall seemed pushed to her jazziest heights by having followed Haynes’s group on the bandstand. Having just heard an hour’s worth of intense, abstract bebop, Krall let her own group stretch out in long solos, which sometimes dissipated the energy and focus that the singer herself commanded whenever she opened her mouth and sang in what has become her trademark style: archly laconic and huskily aloof.

Krall was at her best in mischievous numbers like “Let’s Fall in Love” and “The Look of Love,” when her almost icy approach contrasts starkly with the lusty messages of the songs. And she was a playful pianist, inserting bits of melody from jazz classics including “A Night in Tunisia” and “Bemsha Swing” into her solos.

Haynes’s all-star Birds of a Feather group played an erratic hour of bebop that had its moments of transcendence amid long stretches of nothingness. Ostensibly a tribute to bebop pioneer Charlie “Bird” Parker, the set was used merely as a blowing session for soloists, with little if any attempt at stating familiar themes or motifs. On each of the four 15-minute tunes the group played, trumpeter Roy Hargrove would lead off the tunes, sometimes in tandem with saxophonist Kenny Garrett, who judging from his undistinguished playing, was wisely given a second seat to Hargrove (no point in showcasing what a far leap it was from Parker to Garrett), whose playing on trumpet and flugelhorn was full of bright ideas and drama.

Pianist Dave Kikoski and bassist Christian McBride were exciting soloists, with the former playing long, clear lines of notes and inverted chords, and the latter firing off volleys of doubled-notes and rhythms. But it was Haynes, who played with Parker for a number of years, who was the real star of the show, his playing dynamic and musical, constantly full of surprise and invention.

In the afternoon in Ozawa Hall, McPartland shared the stage with guest pianist Sir Roland Hanna for a taping of her National Public Radio program, “Piano Jazz.” The audience got a backstage peek at the show, which before editing isn’t nearly as seamless as it sounds on the radio – McPartland had to do a number of vocal retakes, but it was all the more entertaining because of it.

Hanna turned out to be not an especially inspiring guest in terms of what he had to say or to play, which only shone the spotlight even brighter on McPartland, whose vivid, feisty personality infused her playing. She brought an exotic modality to a duet version of “Softly as a Morning Sunrise,” into which she inserted a snippet of Saint-Saens’s “Danse Macabre,” and played a mellifluously impressionistic version of her own composition, “With You in Mind.”

The day opened with a double organ-jazz bill featuring the Joey DeFrancesco Trio and the Jimmy McGriff Quartet. Putting aside the sound problems that plagued both groups – DeFrancesco’s electric guitarist was way too loud, and McGriff’s soloists were plagued by feedback – they set just the right blues-based groove to kick off a sprawling day of jazz.

The Hammond B-3 organ paints with a wide, nearly indistinct brush, so when someone can paint colors as sharply and vividly as DeFrancesco did it’s a great accomplishment. McGriff’s group favored the soul component of organ jazz, and featured two terrific if feedback-plagued vocal turns by group members, including guitarist Wayne Boyd’s Eddie Kendricks-like tenor and an Ella Fitzgerald-like turn by special guest vocalist Lady CeCe on “All of Me.”

[This review originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on September 2, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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