Sometimes people forget that jazz gigs can be fun. The musical knowledge required by some jazzbos leaves just enough room for the graduate students while everybody else goes somewhere warm and unobtrusive. Yesterday, the Monterey Jazz Festival tour, under the hypnotic charm of Dee Dee Bridgewater, presented a two-hour show that was at times very deep, occasionally goofy but always swinging.
It would be hard to sign an all-star band for 40 dates that is better than the one that played yesterday. Bassist Christian McBride served as musical director while pianist Benny Green and drummer Lewis Nash rounded out the rhythm section. TrumpeterAmbrose Akinmusire and saxophonist Chris Potter formed the front line while Dee Dee Bridgewater strutted the stage, belting out tunes with a smile.
The concert opened with McBride and Bridgewater striding together through "My Mother's Son-In-Law." It would be hard to find a more captivating, bald-headed duo than these two. The full band joined them for Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty" withAkinmusire and Potter giving rich solos before giving way to a disjointed, Monk-ish solo from Green.
It's hard to believe that the boyish Green is nearly 50. He was granted the Oscar Peterson throne years ago and spent several years employed by legends like Art Blakeyand Ray Brown. He took the lead on a Ray Brown arrangement of a Dizzy Gillespietune called "Tanga." Green's lightning fast solo break earned its own applause and Greenflew with unrivaled dexterity throughout his solo, doubling his lines with both hands while jousting with Nash's hummingbird-like brushes.
Bridgewater joined the trio for a masterclass in space with a crawling "A Child is Born." Only a veteran band like that could let each phrase flutter and expire before embarking on the next, giving weight to every delicate note. Green then played the straight man toBridgewater's come hither routine, melting into a puttied Eddie Valiant beforeBridgewater'sJessica Rabbit (All this after saying 'hi' to her grandkids in the crowd). "He's a sensitive being," said a coy Bridgewater before the band left Green alone on stage for a solo rendition of "Like Someone in Love." It was a moving performance that showed Green's ever-expanding range on the keyboard.
The band returned for a fiery take on Bobby Hutcherson's "Highway 1," a route that bisects the festival's homebase, Monterey, California. Potter gave a particularly strong solo that brought him more into his comfort zone without straying too far outside of the straight-ahead essence of the set.
McBride tried to get the crowd to join him for an 'Amen' before the band, fronted byBridgewater, set to testifying on "God Bless the Child." Green layered beautiful gospel rolls as Nash splashed his hi-hat. Bridgewater's no-holds barred performance netted the band a standing ovation before they closed out with a couple of ensemble performances.
Bridgewater is more than a singer and a musician. She was the emotional core of the group who happily laughed, danced and swaggered before an adoring crowd. She is a veteran entertainer and was in top form with a stellar band and it was impossible to deny her affection for the audience and her bandmates. The jazz world could use a few more ambassadors like that.
Personal Bias: My father and I have seen Christian McBride more times in the last year than we've seen many of our own friends and family members.
The Crowd: A little bit of everything with a bunch of kids for the family-friendly 4pm start time.
Random Notebook Dump: I've never seen an indoor jazz show so early in the day. It seemed like a bad idea beforehand but kind of made sense when it got out at 6 o'clock and there wasn't any pressure on dinner. Dare I say it? We need more jazz matinees.