When you purchase your tickets for any jazz or music festival with multiple stages, you accept the painful reality that you just can't see everything. You are forced to make some tradeoffs, and those are frequently tough choices. Sunday's lineup at the Monterey Jazz Festival presented more than a few of those moments.
Sundays always start the day by featuring the future stars of the music. The fairgrounds stages are filled with high school and college bands, some of whom competed compete festival's annual Next Generation Festival. A showcase for the finest youth jazz combos, ensembles, and orchestras in the country, the Next Generation Festival puts the fruits of the organization's many music programs labor on display. The individual stars of the festival are awarded a seat in the Next Generation Orchestra, and get to participate in a year-long series of workshops, and clinics with the Monterey Jazz Festival's artist-in-residence. Their stint with the NGO concludes with a multi-city tour that gives them the chance to perform before national and international audiences.
Performing with this year's artist-in-resident, Joshua Redman, the NGO's traditional Sunday Afternoon set took on some challenging arrangements. Each year we discover some new stars, many of which return to the main stage years later as featured artists. The band really stretched out on a fine arrangement of The Yellowjackets high energy piece, "Downtown". On that piece alone, the audience was introduced to three shining new stars; Patrick Bartley from Ft. Lauderdale on alto sax, Rane Roatta from Miami on tenor sax, and Anthony Fung from Toronto on drums. The set ended with the orchestra jammin' and trading solos with Redman, Benny Green, and Donny McCaslin.
Closing out the afternoon onn the arena stage was one of the most anticipated performances of the day, India.Arie and Israeli artist Idan Raichel. The music was from their recent project, "Open Door". The music is a mix of African, Latin American, Carribbean, and Middle Eastern influences, combined with the spiritual and inspirational lyrics from Arie. This may be a departure from the radio airplay-friendly tracks some of Arie's fan base has become accustomed to. However, this poet, singer, and composer has always said there is much more to her music than the beat. The arrangements were fresh and intriguing; Arie's voice and lyrics were compelling and uplifting. Their set was a fine way to end the afternoon.
Sunday evening was filled with conflicts; who to see and not see. Benny Green started the evening off with his special guest Donald Harrison in the Noght Club. Competing for attention on the grounds was Steve Coleman and Five Elements, and the Will Blades Trio. The festival's highlight piece started things off on the main stage. Mile Davis/Gil Evans: Still Ahead Presenting music from Porgy & Bessie, Sketches of Spain, & Miles Ahead took the stage with the orchestra conducted by Vince Mendozza. Featured soloists for the set: Peter Erskine on drums and Terrence Blanchard and Miles Evans on trumpet. These Giles Evans orchestral arrangements for those three classic Miles Davis recordings are some of the most memorable among Davis' fans on an emotional level. When they got to one of the most challenging pieces, song from Sketches, Blanchard laid down a solo that seemed channeled directly from Davis himself. This should comke as no surprise as Blanchard as left the arena audience with some of the most memorable performances delivered in recent years.
All starting at 9:00PM were Sonny Rollins on the main stage and Robert Glasper on the grounds. At 9:30PM you had a choice of Joey DeFrancesco w/ Bobby Hutcherson or Eldar Djangirov. Four choices and you could only realistically split between two of them in either time slot. DeFrancesco and Hutcherson laid out a soulful and bluesy set with the always tasteful combination of organ and vibes. Eldar is another fine pianist rising to major acclaim, and Glasper brought one of the other sides of his music with his ongoing collaboration with Neo-soul vocalist Bilal. Rollins, at 81, may not walk the stage as much as he used to, but he still blows strong; real strong. His command and presence on tenor is unequalled, and he showed he can still bring it with the youngsters.
Then, as suddenly as it started, it was over. The 54th Monterey Jazz Festival left behind another legacy of "Monterey Moments". Festival patrons saw and heard the past, the present, and the future of the music, in a whirlwind of three days. As usual, we can't wait until next year.