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The Earshot Jazz Festival Provides a Whirlwind of Great Jazz and World Music In and Around Seattle through November 4th
The Earshot Jazz Festival Provides a Whirlwind of Great Jazz and World Music In and Around Seattle through November 4th
By E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN Arts & Entertainment Writer

The annual Earshot Jazz Festival kicked off with a jam packed array of musical events on Oct. 20th and will be running through Nov. 4th. Not only are there a variety of different styles of jazz being presented, but also an interesting mix of world music from India and the African continent.

Here's an overview of the music I've heard this week. Singer, Dee Dee Bridgewater created a lot of excitement at the Triple Door on Sun. Oct 21st, with her ten piece group of international musicians, "Red Earth" . Bridgewater discovered her roots in the African country of Mali and has been exploring making music with Malian musicians ever since. The result is an energetic, respectful, playful and sincere hybrid blend of American jazz and blues with traditional and contemporary Malian music. The Malian musicians working with Bridgewater are descendents and practitioners of the Griot tradition. Griots are storytellers and keepers of the oral history of their culture. Instruments played included: balafon, talking drum, djembe, congas, piano, bass, kora, and a stringed instrument that was a precursor of the banjo.

There were two Malian singers and Bridgewater on strong vocals, bringing it all together. Bridgewater always is totally energized and positive, giving 110percent, (even though this was the last night of a long tour) and she always looks great, in amazing outfits, this time wearing a piece of wearable art; a black, three dimensional dress with accordion pleated fan shapes, protruding at all angles from the dress's core along with a matching hat of similar design. Prefacing the song "The Children/Children Go Around", she encouraged the audience and all children not to let anything stop them and to get over negative thinking and to go around obstacles when confronted with them .She exuded her amazing enthusiasm and warmth for music, community and appreciation for diverse cultures. Bridgewater has an incredibly generous spirit in her performance. There were call and response songs in Malian and English, scat singing and jazz tunes including "Afro Blue" and Bridgewater's personalized version of Freddie Hubbard's "Footprints", which she has entitled "Long Time Ago", with lyrics about historical African roots.

The group played a 13th century Malian song with a moral, in which a Chief had everything he could ever want, yet seeing a woman whom he considered the most beautiful in all of Africa, insisted on marrying her, even though she was happily betrothed to another. He had her brought to him. The ceremony was arranged. But when she was brought into the bedroom to consummate the union, they found the Chief dead in his bed. The moral of the story? "Too much greed will kill you".

Oliver Mtukudzi and his eight piece group from Zimbabwe, played two sold out shows at the Triple Door on Tues., Oct. 23rd. Mtikudzi has a sweet, gentle personality and spiritual nature. His music is breezy, laid back, mellow, pleasant and inviting and is relaxing and soothing while being catchy and very danceable at the same time. The marimba and mbira (thumb piano) help give it its gentle air. The group of two women and six men sang with beautiful harmonies and the intermittent use of the alto saxophone brought a jazzy flavor to the music. Mtukudzi commented that "where we come from, music is food. You can use music when you get lonely. You can find us singing all night long, all day long at your wedding. You can find us singing when we are working, like I am doing now. Most of all we use music to diffuse tension.. We talk about our frustrations, our joy, and our pain and beautify it, like this&" and proceeded into another wonderful, happy dance number, to the delight of the audience.

I heard some excellent performances at Tula's Restaurant. Tula's is a small intimate jazz club with a selection of good, reasonably priced food that provides a perfect atmosphere for acoustic jazz trios and quartets. Marc Cary was absolutely phenomenal with his "Focus Trio". His playing is fiery, subtle, varietal and intelligent; moving through many moods, first percussive and abstract, then thoughtful, lyrical, reflective and impressionistic, like Cary's breathtakingly beautiful foray into Duke Ellington's sublime, "A Single Petal of a Rose". Cary chose other wonderful material by Ellington, ("Melancholia" from "Queen Suite") Billy Strayhorn, ("A Flower is a Lovesome Thing"), Abby Lincoln ("Throw it Away", "Down Heavy Low", "My Love is You"), and John Coltrane (a solo theme from "A Love Supreme") to weave into his performance. Sameer Gupta added a great dimension by deftly playing Indian Tablas along with his powerful trap drum playing and David Ewell rounded out this very tight and dynamic trio with strong support on acoustic bass. After everyone left, Cary sat down at the piano and played his take on some Erik Satie, which was just lovely.

Luis Perdomo's trio was riveting, tight and totally in the spirit at Tula's. Flowing through Latin, classical and straight ahead jazz styles, this Venezuelan pianist, commanded the keyboard with percussive dynamism, sounding full, lush, sensual and compelling. Carlo De Rosa was intensely expressive and creative on the acoustic bass and Eric Mc Pherson drove the exciting rhythms with concentration, presence and varying colors on drums. This trio is so high energy and in the moment that I was on the edge of my seat locked in the power of the rhythms.

Jimmy Greene, saxophonist, and former student of the late Jackie McLean, played beautifully at Tula's, with fine ensemble support from great local Seattle musicians, sensitive pianist Marc Seales, versatile drummer, D'vonne Lewis, and grounded acoustic bassist, Jeff Norwood. Greene has a beautiful tone on both his tenor and soprano saxophones and his style, phrasing and spiritual nature expresses an essence reminiscent of John Coltrane (and I don't say that lightly). This spirit was especially evident when Greene played music that he composed to go with the "Lord's Prayer".

Dafnis Prieto's "Absolute Quintet", played as a quartet for their first show at the Triple Door, on Mon., Oct 22nd. . Their great violinist, Christian Howes' plane was late. This was the only performance that I found a bit disappointing. Each of the musicians in this group is accomplished in their own right and I expected a cohesive group interaction, with Jason Lindner, piano/organ/synthesizer, Dana Leong, cello/trombone and Cuban saxophonist, Yosvany Terry. Unfortunately,

I didn't find that they had a chance to work tightly in a union together. Part of the problem was that the music (most of which was being read from the page) was weak and very poorly arranged for this group situation. The biggest problem however, and quite surprising, I might add, was that Cuban drummer and bandleader, Prieto, a good musician, made the unfortunate decision to dominate ninety five percent of the musical set with very loud and bombastic drumming, not allowing the other musicians a chance in the spotlight and not allowing for any subtlety of musical expression. There were a few moments, when Leong picked up his trombone and there was some interplay with everyone being heard, but this was fleeting. This set was devoid of inspiration for me and I just found myself growing more upset and shocked with Prieto's insensitivity to the other musicians and his obliviousness to the variety of moods and thrilling talent that his fellow musicians could have offered the audience, if only he could have listened to them and laid back a little, giving them some space to stretch out and add their unique contributions to a satisfying whole.

Upcoming performances in the Earshot Jazz Festival include: Musafir, tribal Rom musicians from Rajasthan, India, Willem Breuker Kollektif, from Holland, performing their original soundtrack to F. W. Murnau's 1926 silent film, "Faust", Festival in the Desert, staring Tinariwen, a Touareg tribal collective from the Sahara Desert and Vieux Farka Toure, son of the late, great Ali Farka Toure. Also part of this year's festival is jazz pianist, Fred Hersch, (who is a fund-raiser and spokesman for HIV/AIDS causes, including his production of and performance on recordings for Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS. The first of these albums has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for AIDS related service and education programs.)

For a complete and up to date line up of the rest of the Earshot Jazz Festival visit: www.earshot.org.


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