Playboy Jazz Festival at The Hollywood Bowl -- Concert Review

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Saturday's segment of the 31st Playboy Jazz Festival got off to a promising start with a high-level jam session featuring two great new players in the front line, Anat Cohen and Tanya Darby.

In an eerily full-sounding replay of that Duke Ellington classic "Crescendo and Diminuendo in Blue," saxophonist Cohen and trumpeter Darby made like the full Ellington band. Cohen sounded echoes of Ben Webster, Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet when it was her turn to solo, and Darby played Cootie Williams with a blue plunger of her own.

And so they built a substantial high rise.

The re-creation of the Miles Davis classic disc "Kind of Blue" was not exactly ticky tack, more like a declining theme park.

This was despite the propulsive drumming of Jimmy Cobb, who was on the original recording, and the propulsive bass playing of John Weber, who came close to the style of the great Paul Chambers, also on the original.

But Wallace Roney, in the key trumpet role, played 10 times as loud as Miles had, and that pretty much ruined the effect.

Jack Sheldon's familiar Big Band was a grand old mansion in Toluca Lake, but on Sunday Dave Holland's visiting New York Big Band was a towering Manhattan skyscraper, albeit one with a decided Latin bent. Bassist Holland, also a Miles Davis alum, has worked with such people as Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers, and his charts are like unto them.

Four-four time seems to have receded into the distant past, and the wildly adventurous band found many fecund harmonic paths to go with the exotic time signatures. Yet everything was readily comprehensible.

Saxophonists Chris Potter, Antonio Hart, Mark Gross and Gary Smulyan soloed in the band's characteristic way -- as though they were expanding on the charts instead of being merely brilliant. This was the method also used by trumpeters Taylor Haskins and Duane Eubanks and trombonists Robin Eubanks and Andy Hunter.

The other tower, to continue the ill-founded metaphor, was the Neville Brothers group out of New Orleans, particularly the saxophonist Charles Neville. You were soon convinced, as the beat rolled on, that all these guys were really enjoying themselves. Drummer Willie Green dispensed happy juice like it was Gatorade at a football game, and all drank deeply.

Charles Neville made you think of the days when Degas was a resident of the Crescent City. He had a European sound on tenor, and his beautiful long swooping lines were full of delicious curlicues like the entrance to a Paris subway. Art Neville, at the Hammond B3, seemed to be anchoring the beat, but every man was wading sinuously along in what Ellington used to call "swamp goo."

The piratical Aaron Neville sang beautifully in his heart-tugging soprano, and you hoped that the white-suited Phil Perry, who preceded him during the Norman Brown Summer Storm event, took heed.

There is no need to devise derogatory remarks about such low-rise acts as Esperanza Spalding, an acclaimed new bassist; Sharon Jones, a powerful blues vocalist; Patti Austin, a Vegas-bred singer; or Kenny G, of whom we all know. Wayne Shorter did not stir the blood, nor did King Sunny Ade and his African beat.

Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez held one's attention, and Jon Faddis, the trumpet man, did more than that.


Venue: The Hollywood Bowl, June 13 and 14.
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