Minnie the Moocher's Revenge

Sing Along With the JVC All-Stars

The third night, inexplicably titled "Cabaret Jazz Hall of Fame," offered a suave set by Freddie Cole, his combo, and his royal timbre; followed by Blossom Dearie and her trio, mining more laughs from "My Attorney Bernie" than its composer with her faux-innocent phrasing and vocal quality. She fared best overall. Act II was more of a provocation: Ronny Whyte, who wore a white dinner jacket but chose to scat "Buttons and Bows" for the occasion, sent me racing to the lobby; it was my understanding that JVC provides a safe haven from lounge acts. Then it was time for 85-year-old Joe Bushkin. Jack Kleinsinger, our voluble host, uncharacteristically announced that he would turn over the introduction to Judy Garland, who led off an entertaining 10-minute film in which Bushkin spoke of his life amid clips with her, Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra, Crosby, Armstrong, and others. At a normal program, the lights would have come on to reveal the man himself; instead the lights revealed Kleinsinger for another introduction. Bushkin had had enough. He walked out and later made a rude remark about the majordomo that induced more gasps than laughs. Yet he played splendidly in his pop 1950s Teddy Wilson-at-cocktail-hour style, lush and spry; sang his two hit songs; told anecdotes mostly of the war; and started a medley from High Societythat ignored "True Love" in favor of "Love for Sale" and "The Lady Is a Tramp."

"A Love Supreme: Remembering John Coltrane," at Carnegie, offered another kind of drama—waiting for some mention of Coltrane, which never came. A totally silent Roy Hargrove led his superb quintet through the festival's single worst morass of acoustic madness. The sound was so boxy you had to strain just to penetrate the echoes and hear the notes. The first piece, which may actually have been by Coltrane, defeated me completely. But switching to flügelhorn for a few exceedingly laid-back ballads—two that Coltrane recorded ("I Wish I Knew," "Nature Boy") and one he didn't ("I'm Glad There Is You")—Hargrove penetrated the mist. Few musicians, Gen X or other, can embrace standards with Hargrove's polish; at JVC, only Keith Jarrett matched him. I have no doubt that he could pull off, Clifford-like or, better still, Coltrane-like, a whole album of ballads. Altoist Jesse Davis played ferociously, though most of his efforts disappeared into the ceiling, and pianist Larry Willis offered acute comping and a lithe, Tatumesque touch. He was also exceptional later in the festival, as a member of Jerry Gonzalez and Fort Apache.

JVC's most ambitious debut, the oddest in some time, was Slide Hampton's arrangement of A Love Supreme, performed by Jon Faddis and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band with guest soloist Michael Brecker. The very idea was daunting, but Hampton pulled it off by ignoring religious connotations, focusing on the eight- and 12-bar themes from parts two and three, and permitting Brecker free rein in a cadenza acknowledging only the god of ravenous virtuosity. It was impossible, on one hearing, to grasp all the intricacies; I'm not sure how the first section—a 10-minute episode beginning with a choir of winds, a vamp, a percussion transition, and piping Faddis top-notes—relates to the original. The delayed arrival of Coltrane's first-movement ostinato introduced Brecker, who played with the rhythm section. "Resolution" was almost shocking, with baritone saxophone fronting stark voicings topped with pitched brasses, the eight-bar figure played in unison with as many different endings as Coltrane indicated and possibly more. The long Brecker cadenza replaced penitential passion with razzle-dazzle showmanship, complete with double-note ripples that reminded me of the old Varitone electric sax, except Brecker apparently gets all his effects without help. Considered religiously, if we must, the approach was less Coltrane than Ellington, who put virtuoso display, including an elaborate drum solo, at the center of "In the Beginning God." Brecker had the audience on its feet cheering as the ensemble suddenly went into "Miles' Mode," featuring short solos by CHJB saxophonists (none of whom invoked the once ubiquitous Coltrane style) and another powerhouse display from Brecker. Indeed, the concert resembled a religious service in the number of times the congregation took to its feet. Still, it was not a good idea for Faddis to encourage the audience to sing "A Love Supreme" with the band, which I swear he did.

The boomers got to worship at greater length a few nights later, as Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette filled Carnegie—something I suspect no other piano trio could pull off. I had not seen Jarrett, never a favorite of mine, in more than 20 years, since the days of the grumpy hour-long meditations replete with blues clichés that you found either transporting or numbing. But last year's Whisper Notmade me regret my assumptions and dig through many other albums of standards he recorded in the '90s; I can still live without the earlier records, including the quartet with Dewey Redman, but I will never again underestimate a musician who can make me listen to "Love Is a Sentimental Thing." So I awaited this performance eagerly and, though there were none of the triple somersaults heard on, for example "Groovin' High," I was not disappointed. The trio is spectacular. Records, however, have an advantage: You don't have to watch him levitate from the bench like beer foam, gyrating his hips and swiveling toward the audience with a grimace indistinguishable from a grin or vice versa. Live and on records, you have to put up with vocal accompaniment—a keening eeeeehhhhhhthat is no more pleasing than Glenn Gould's and a constant regimen of Peacock solos that reminded me of Ellington's comparison of bass solos to TV commercials. Alas, no remote.

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