Fans arriving at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival, presented by Verizon, were greeted by colder than normal temperatures rain. The rain would stay thoughout the evening, but the temperature got a little hotter when Dave Holland & Friends took the stage as the opening act in the main arena.
Holland is most often seen backing some of the most well known artists in the music. What gets lost is he is also a very accomplished composer. On this night, as he is doing more frequently these days, he led an extraordinary group of young musicians. His regular quintet saxophonist, Chris Potter, was joined by Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano and the incredible Eric Harland on drums.
Holland's last appearance here was with his big band, performing a commissioned work. This time he did what he is most often seen doing, delivering some hard driving, straight-ahead jazz with intricate compositions and innovative musicians. As usual with Holland, he stays subtly in the background. Chris Potter was in fine form, doubling on both tenor and alto. Rubalcaba, on the other hand, was on fire. In his first appearance on the main stage at Monterey, He was bringing the kind of performance that has come to be expected by first time festival artists. His energy level was much higher than I've seen in previous settings, even as a leader. Eric Harland is one of the most captivating young drummers out there today. He's every bit as much fun to watch as he is to hear. Together, these guys set the evening off to a roaring start.
John McLaughlin is most known for his time with Miles Davis, and for his Mahavishnu Orchestra. His performances are usually toward either of those two extremes. His 4th Dimension band played what is best described as a cross-section of both worlds, with a MJF audience flavor. It was jazz, with the expected English rock guitar that has been the signature of this legend. the compositions were fresh, as were the faces in the band. Fresh faces or not, they came with passion, they came with fire, and they came with a very tight performance.
McLaughlin, of course, was still the show. The East Indian flavored side of his musical repitoire may be for select audiences, but the 4th Dimension selections were pleasers for the entire crowd. Well aware of the historic nature of this year's festival, McLaughlin cleverly injected his solos with quotes from many of the classic recordings he's bee a part of, and others that are considered fusion classics. A Miles Davis reference here, a Chic Corea reference there, a little Al Di Meola and John Coltrane sprinkled in here and there, and you had a salute to the many legends that have graced the Jimmy Lyons stage.
Two great performances to open a weekend of great performances. Neither of these legends were promoting a new CD. They were just there to play and honor the great history of the Monterey Jazz Festival.