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Impressive variety at 2009 Earshot Jazz Festival
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Impressive variety at 2009 Earshot Jazz Festival

by E. Joyce Glasgow - SGN A&E Writer

Earshot Jazz Festival
Various Seattle locations
Through November 8


The 2009 Earshot Jazz Festival has been featuring an impressive and remarkable variety of music and top-flight musicianship. Some of the highlights of the festival so far, which began on October 16 and continues through November 8 at venues around Seattle, are as follows:

On October 20 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Trio M, comprised of Myra Melford on piano, Mark Dresser on acoustic bass and Matt Wilson on drums, played at such an unusually high intuitive level that I was blown away. They are three musicians who have a lot of experience together and on their own with improvisation and group musical dynamics. Their playing was beyond the earthly elements of emotion or intellect and more like abstract telepathy amongst themselves and with their audience. In our culture, we are not used to allowing ourselves to dwell in the land of intuition, and this trio made it possible to venture there and revel in musical communication on that level for an hour and a half. Bravo Trio M, well done!

Another major highlight so far has been the duo Phantom Orchard, comprised of Zeena Parkins on electric harp, concert harp, electric sound manipulation and simple objects - including a scrub brush - and Ikue Mori on computer, sound design and visuals. The duo performed on October 24 at the Chapel Performance Space. Their multimedia presentation was highly inventive and musically playful and delightful. It kind of reminded me of a 1960s happening with 21st-century sensibilities. Screen visuals included dramatic splashes of abstract colors, animals and insects morphing in and out of abstract shapes, and dancing geometric shapes alongside otherworldly musical pieces where computer sounds blended beautifully with the harp, creating a distinctive, exploratory soundscape, both composed and freely improvised.

Appearing twice on the bill with Phantom Orchard and with terrific improvisers Matthew Shipp and Joe Morris on October 22 at the Seattle Asian Art Museum was the intriguing, versatile duo of Saadet Turkoz, a Khazak/ Turkish singer from the highlands of Central Asia, and Canadian cellist Peggy Lee. The two of them improvised both nights, Turkoz drawing her singing from the influences of her homeland. On the first night, the music sounded like a shamanic journey. The second night, it sounded like lullabies and conversations. The music was evocative and the atmosphere the two of them created was otherworldly.

Tarbaby, at Tula's October 17 and 18, is a wild and intense quartet with an assertive and very pleasing musical demeanor. Comprised of some of the finest young musicians on the jazz scene - Stavy Dillard on sax, Orrin Evans on piano, Nasheet Waits on drums and Eric Reevis on bass - the group has the flexibility to play free jazz beautifully and then to switch gears and do a fresh new take on an old standard, like they did with Fats Waller's "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter."

Allen Toussaint brought his good-time New Orleans blues/soul to the Triple Door with his band on October 18. Toussaint has a beautiful, sunny spirit, and an amazing and accomplished musical history. His piano technique is virtuosic. At times he would take off on solo sojourns into Gershwin and classical composers, fluidly interspersing these flights of fancy with snippets of traditional songs and bits of other pieces, including references to "Blue Rondo a la Turk," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," and "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." An incredible showman, he energized the audience with his band, composed of Renard Poche on guitar, Roland Guerin on bass, and Herman LeBeaux on drums.

There were noteworthy performances by the Garfield High School Jazz Band on October 16 and the Roosevelt High School Jazz Big Band on October 19 at the Triple Door. Seattleites should be proud of these two fabulous, unique high school big bands that are consistently good year to year, under the guidance of their incredible teachers - Clarence Acox at Garfield and Scott Brown at Roosevelt - who instill an appreciation for the history of jazz in their students. They win awards and are invited to play at numerous festivals, and it is a great foundation for those students who would like to pursue professional careers as jazz musicians. Garfield featured saxophonist Miguel Zenon as special guest and Roosevelt featured the Matt Wilson Quartet as their special guests.

The Matt Wilson Quartet brought their playful and fun free playing to the Seattle Art Museum on October 18. These four are uninhibited and creative and just go for it with a humorous attitude, featuring Kirk Knuffke on trumpet, Jeff Lederer on sax and clarinets, Chris Lightcap on bass and Wilson on drums.

Pianist/composer and U.W. music professor Marc Seales and his group played his "Paris Suite" on October 21, and music from the American Songbook on October 22 at Tula's. I made it to the second performance, when Seales played with Cuong Vu on trumpet, Garry Hobbs on drums, Dave Captein on bass and Fred Hamilton on guitar. The set was very pleasing, not just for the jazz standards played, but especially for the popular tunes that Seales and his musicians were delightfully re-inventing, including "Taking it to the Streets" and a most exquisite rendition of "Wichita Lineman." The interpretation of that iconic tune was slow and deliberate, and brought a whole new beauty to the song, with an achingly gorgeous, reverberating, spacious solo by Cuong Vu.

The McTuff organ trio lived up to its name in its performance at Tula's on October 19. Their music is muscular and powerful with a full-bodied, soulful sound. It's kind of like a pit bull of jazz; energetic, exciting, funky and lots of fun to listen to. McTuff features accomplished Seattle musicians Joe Doria on Hammond organ, Andy Coe on electric guitar, and D'Vonne Lewis on drums.

Tish Oney's Peggy Lee Project, at the Kirkland Performance Center on October 30, was a beautiful look into the artistic life and creativity of one of America's iconic popular singers. We learned that Peggy Lee was a real Renaissance woman, living in a time when women were not given credit for their creative successes.

Tish Oney is an accomplished musician and music scholar who has been a fan of Peggy Lee since she was introduced to her music at age 7 by her mother, a fan herself. When it came time to do her doctoral dissertation, she chose Peggy Lee and her music as her subject, arranging all the material lovingly and bringing a new spotlight on to this amazing artist. Oney pointed out that Lee always put an optimistic spin on her lyrics. Oney is a fine, expressive and very polished singer and performer, and her performance was very entertaining. She was accompanied by John Chiodini, Peggy Lee's former music director, on guitar, Joel Hamilton on bass, and Kendall Kay on drums.

The European trio of Achim Kaufmann on piano, Frank Gratkowski on alto sax and clarinets and Wilbert de Joode on bass played a concert of passionate and committed free jazz improvisation that was really inspiring and inventive at the Chapel Performance Space on November 2. One could enjoy the music in the abstract or paint concrete pictures from the evocative palette provided. At certain points, in my imagination, I saw and heard a low-purring tiger and a herd of elephants calling and traveling along in a group, and at other points I moved into a blank canvas, where sound alone conveyed mood, contemplation and abstract communication with the audience.

Another very fine improvising trio is the Third Man Trio, who played at the Chapel Performance Space on October 19. Comprised of Dutch percussion/drum wild man Han Bennink, Will Holshouser on accordion and Michael Moore on clarinets and sax, this trio played freely, morphing into abstracted melodies reminiscent of European cabaret music. Han Bennink is an energetic force of nature at 67, with the flexibility and dexterity of a daddy long-legs spider and the unquenchable, childlike desire to find as many surfaces as possible to make into sources of percussive sounds.

Pianist/composer/flutist and Cornish professor Jovino Santos Neto and his Quinteto, with guest sax and clarinet player Harvey Wainapel, played uproarious, high-energy, joyous, original Brazilian music by Santos Neto on November 2 and 3 at Tula's, with outstanding musicians: percussionist Jeff Busch, bassist Chuck Deardorf, and drummer Mark Ivester.

Clarinetist/saxophonist Don Byron brought an all-star quartet to the Triple Door on November 3, including Ed Simon on piano, Billy Hart on drums, and Kenny Davis on bass. They played mostly original Byron tunes, including a beautiful, reflective duet ballad for clarinet and piano dedicated to the late African- American Neo-expressionist artist Jean Michel Basquiat. Byron also played a classical solo clarinet piece by Bach and the group lit up the audience with Byron's "Etude #4," in which he has utilized incredibly creative chordal and harmonic relationships amongst the musicians, including an inventive rhythm punctuation by the drummer on one cymbal, and a deep, bluesy undercurrent on tenor saxophone. The group also played a lovely version of the standard "Body and Soul," with Byron on bass clarinet. Don Byron is always surprising his audiences with his eclectic and versatile creative projects, including klezmer, German lieder and cartoon music. He is currently living in Rome, Italy.

There are still some wonderful events to catch before the festival is over. For more information about the 2009 Earshot Jazz Festival or information about other Earshot events throughout the year, visit www.earshot.org.

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