Concert Review: The Boston Globe Jazz and Blues Festival

By Brian L. Knight

The spring/early summer of 1999 has been a very exciting time for jazz fans in Boston. Already, the city hosted a leg of the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival which featured a lineup of John Zorn, Don Byron, Pharoah Sanders and Medeski, Martin and Wood while the Central Square World Festival saw the return of Berklee School of Music alumni Jon Scofield. If that wasn’t enough, the Boston Globe hosted its 28th Jazz and Blues Festival. Using venues spread out across Boston and Cambridge, the festival sponsored over 25 bands that played in various locations ranging from free concerts in the park to intimate performances in small nightclubs. With so many bands and so little time, it was hard to see all the great music. Here are some the highlights:


The Rippingtons

Under the co-sponsorship of a Smooth Jazz radio station, one may be fearful to walk into a Rippington’s performance. Based on the fact that the concert was held at the beautiful Roxy Theater in Boston’s Theater District and I was taught to try everything at least once, I headed into the Rippington’s concert with an open mind. And I was far from disappointed. Led by guitarist Russ Freeman, the Rippington’s played a combination of jazz and rock that was, yes smoothing but very talented. Their music varies from moody pay Metheny-like compositions to funk rockers and everything in between. Unlike their modern-jazz contemporaries, the Rippingtons did not want to take every solo to its extreme, but rather create a well-crafted tune. This fact may be the source for many a criticism from their jazz peers, but these critics forget that Russ Freeman is playing original music and having fun doing so.


David Stein Trio/David "Fathead" Newman/Brother Jack McDuff

The one thing that seems to get neglected at some jazz festivals is free music. In many instances, there will be a token live performance but the big acts are reserved for the ticketed events. Not in the case of the Boston Globe Jazz and Blues and Festival. On the festival’s opening festivities, which coincided with Father’s Day, the public was treated to a free concert featuring vocalist Dianne Krall, Latin groovers Cubanismo and the collaboration of Chick Corea’s Origin and vibist Gary Burton. Throughout the week, there were free concerts at Copley Plaza as well. To get over the Festival’s hump day, there was a performance the funky sounds of the Hammond B-3. First up was the David Stein Trio featuring the guest saxophonist/flautist David "Fathead" Newman. Besides the presence of Newman, who started his career playing with Ray Charles and then moved onto stints with Eddie Harris and Herbie Mann, ex-Brattleboro resident, guitarist and bandleader David Stein, found his secret weapons in organist Ken Clark and drummer Dave Hurst. Check out all four of these talented players on Green Street (A-Records) in which you will find some groovy tunes such as "Booga Lou" (dedicated to the great funky saxophonist Lou Donaldson). The band’s final performance the afternoon was the suitable titles "Jack’s Back" for their performance was immediately followed by the legendary Brother Jack McDuff. At 70 years old, Jack McDuff still knows how to lay down the slinkiest of grooves. Along with fellow Hammond B-3 organists Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and John Patton, McDuff was primarily responsible for creating the soul-jazz trio sounds that dominated the 1960s. McDuff is still busy recording and has just released That’s The Way I Feel About It(Concord.) Set against the backdrop of the historic Trinity Church and the towering Copley Center, it was hot relaxing day of grooving organ sounds.


The Art Ensemble of Chicago

From the smooth and groovy soul-jazz sounds of the Hammond B-3, the jazz festival took an about face for an evening performance of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC). Attendees of Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival were fortunate for they had an opportunity to hear the trumpet playing of AEC’s Lester Bowie. For the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s first performance in the Boston area in over eight years, the talented, free spirited band was less one of its founding members. During a recent tour on Europe, Bowie had contracted an illness and he was unable to play at the Berklee Performance Center. Bowie’s replacement, multi-instrumentalist Ari Brown, was more than capable to fill in the gap for Bowie. Brown, a fellow member of the Association of the Advancement of Creative Music (the non-profit organization responsible for inspiring the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s formation), joined Ensemble members Don Moye (drums, percussion), Malachi Favors(bass, percussion) and Roscoe Mitchell (flute, saxophone, bass recorder, pennywhistle). As a fellow avant gardist (and one time replacement for a sick Roscoe Mitchell), Brown had little difficulty assimilating to the headliner’s performance. That is one of the beautiful things about the collective improvisation that symbolizes the Art Ensemble of Chicago. There were no set lists or song sheets for Brown to follow – the only requirement was to play as free as he could. And that is what the Art Ensemble did. The quartet segued their one hour plus opening improvisation from peaceful wood flute solos into dueling saxophone mania into rhythmic percussion jams. The performance varied from serenity to frenzy and the transition would occur in a nanosecond. From a single placed note on an alto saxophone to the rhythmic dancing of Malachi Favors ankle bells to the use of a key chain that has laser gun sounds, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, although under the initial impression of creating cacophonous noise, approached their show with intense professionalism. On the surface, the Art Ensemble of Chicago may sound like a dissonant mess, but upon witnessing the collective energy of the band, the virtuosity of their solos and their use of silence, one becomes aware that he/she is in front of musical mastery. At any given moment, each of the band members was captured within their groove that somehow came together to create a unified piece. During the concert, the audience felt that they were experiencing a special event. It was much more than blowing solos, it was a participatory and spiritual occurrence. After its release of Coming Home Jamaica(Atlantic Records), the AEC was voted Downbeat Magazine’s Acoustic Jazz Group of the Year. Like a typical AEC performance, Coming Home Jamaica runs through many different moods and styles. From the Caribbean influence of "Lotta Colada" and "Strawberry Mango" to the free jazz snippets of "Jamaica Farewell" and "Malachi" to the blues of "Mama Wants You", Coming Home Jamaica is a celebration of AEC’s diversity and skill that has been running strong for over thirty years now.


McCoy Tyner and the Latin All-Stars

For three days in Boston, there was a special concert event. Due to scheduling the talented personnel, McCoy Tyner and the Latin All-Stars are only able to get together once or twice a year, and in most cases, these meetings only occur on the West Coast. McCoy Tyner is most familiar to jazz fans as the pianist of the John Coltrane Quartet during the 1960s. During these magical years, in which the quartet recorded classic albums such as A Love Supreme and Ballads, Tyner’s playing was much more than simple rhythmic accompaniment. Instead Tyner attacked the keys like a drum kit and challenged the already brilliant improvisations of Coltrane. In the 1990s, McCoy is still challenging musicians with his style of play and this time around; Tyner has chosen Latin music for his medium. During this performance at the Regattabar in Cambridge, Tyner was joined by a truly all star front line of trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, saxophonist David Sanchez, and trombonist Robin Eubanks. All three musicians lead very busy lives as leaders themselves and it was a special treat to see the three together. Bassist Avery Sharpe and the three-way percussion onslaught of Ignacio Berroa, Giovanni Hildago and Johnny Almendra anchored the rhythm section down. During the performance, the All-Stars played songs from the appropriately titled CD McCoy Tyner and the Latin All-Stars (Telarc). The album/performance features three Tyner originals, most notable "Festival in Bahia" as well as a version of Kenny Dorham’s "Blue Bossa". The highlight of the evening’s performance arrived with a version of the classic ‘Poinciana’. Although it was great to hear the refreshing, robust sounds of the full band, it was the stripped down trio version of this song that stole the evening. For anybody who likes both the playing style of Tyner and the upbeat sounds of Latin music, listen to the album. You won’t be disappointed.


In a one-week period, I was able to take a veritable tour of jazz styles. From the contemporary jazz of the Rippingtons to the soul jazz of Jack McDuff and the David Stein Trio; from the avant-garde of the Art Ensemble of Chicago to the Latin hard bop of McCoy Tyner; it was all there for fans to enjoy. Unfortunately, I missed the swing of Artie Shaw Orchestra, the blues of the Muddy Waters Tribute Band, the jazz violin of Regina Carter and the bebop of former Miles Davis drummer Jimmy Cobb. There is always next year.