Ornette and Others

JVC Bounces Back Right on Schedule

And it must follow, as the night the day, that whenever JVC is as false to its calling as it was last summer, it will direct its next installment toward the true light. Look it up: The JVC Jazz Festival never scrapes bottom in consecutive years. With the return of Ornette Coleman (imperial), Wayne Shorter (tapped to elation by Savion Glover), and Dee Dee Bridgewater (an incendiary "Fever" for Peggy Lee), Carnegie Hall once again shone with star power, while diverse programming at Kaye Playhouse and inspired bookings at participating clubs added to a sense of citywide satiation. As usual for recent programs, it skewed to one age group—this year, elder statespeople. Boomers, so recently dominant, were in short supply (especially loft grads), and the young were virtually absent. I assume impresario and first-time author George Wein doesn't do this deliberately; it just happens, like the rainy season and hot spells.

JVC got off to a terrifically festive start at Kaye with the kind of no-brainer that almost always works, though not at this level. The recipe is simplicity itself: a couple of beloved veterans as objects of homage, and reliable mainstreamers to combine jam-session zest, pointed anecdote, and pulsing esprit. Joe Wilder and Frank Wess, recent additions to the octogenerians' club, hardly said a word all night but were involved in just about every segment, their trademark brews of eloquence and economy as potent as the sometimes ecstatic salutations played in their honor. From the first—Wilder, Wess, rhythm section, "Just Friends"—it was evident that the indispensable drummer Winard Harper would not tolerate flagging spirits; marking time on the hi-hat, shuffling over the snares for encouragement, and working the ride cymbal for incitement, he buttressed every measure.

The concert switched from pleasing to memorable when Phil Woods and Antonio Hart weighed in with their twin altos on "My Shining Hour," the former venting with his customary electric charge, the latter modifying his Cannonball proclivities with a strong jolt of Woods, showing off the consequences of serious woodshedding. A promising player for what seems like forever, Hart held his own and stayed in tune. So many privileged moments ensued that singling out a few seems unfair to the abiding euphoria, but that's what we're here for: Jimmy Heath constructed a solo as lucid and intricate as an architect's blueprint on "Bag's Groove"; Bill Charlap found in Stephen Sondheim's "Uptown Downtown" an anthem that combines stride rhythms and dramatic shifts in dynamics; Wilder engaged Charlap on "It's Easy to Remember" and dapper Benny Powell on "Squeeze Me"; Jon Faddis outclassed Roy Hargrove on a Basie riff, but came in second on a ballad medley in which Hargrove's Brownian lyricism ("Never Let Me Go") showed his real forte; Wilder and Warren Vache locked horns on a contrapuntal "It's You or No One," preferring polyphony to the usual fours; Wess and Heath mined the deepest and mellowest swing groove of the evening on "What Is This Thing Called Love"; and everyone scored on a stunning finale of "Lester Leaps In" that was talked about all week—not least for the rapid-fire piano exchanges between Charlap and Renee Rosnes. It demands a sequel. I suggest "Over the Heath and Into the Woods." No charge.

Ted Rosenthal's "Piano Starts Here" scored more often than not once a thudding triptych of technicians was out of the way. Eliane Elias's Gershwin medley showed that she can play breezy and her duet with Kenny Barron showed that she can play fast, but she brings little to a jazz party. Joey Caldarazzo brings nothing at all, beyond endless arpeggios, a consuming self-importance, and riff routines designed to make stadiums cheer (didn't work at Kaye). It's never seemed fair to me to review child prodigies the way they do in classical music, chiefly because so few of them get it, so suffice it to say that the 16-year-old relocated Siberian, Eldar Djangirov, played more notes faster than anyone else, and that it behooves his tutors to tell him about John Lewis and Tommy Flanagan. A little Tatum is a dangerous thing.

There was much to admire. Barron dug into "Yardbird Suite" at the swinging medium tempo that brings out his best. Charlap, uncharacteristically hyper (a few times he clapped his hands as if impatient of finding the right chord), played tunes by Michel Legrand and the Bergmans with economy and purpose, as well as duets with Rosenthal ("Rocker"—they had each worked with Gerry Mulligan) and Cedar Walton. Rosenthal revisited numbers from Threeplay, "Forever Young" and Monk's "Let's Cool One," with his gentle touch, pretty bass-clef harmonies, and astute time. Kenny Werner just about stole the show, deftly supported by Peter Washington, with his contemplative, ariose improvs, the last of which gradually revealed itself as a fantasia based on "Giant Steps." Cedar Walton closed with just the right touch of maturity, revealing the ideal proportion of technique, swing, vamps, blue notes, and rests on J.J. Johnson's "Lament" and his own classic "Bolivia."

Randy Sandke and Richard Sudhalter organized the centennial repertory tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, which managed to insert a few surprises amid careful re-creations and adaptations that included transcribed Bix and Frank Trumbauer solos played by trios of trumpets and C-melody saxophones, sometimes incorporating solos from alternate takes. The key surprises were the shrewd inclusion of little-known arrangements by the Whiteman and Goldkette arranger Bill Challis, and a couple of modern interpretations of Bix material by Tom Talbert and especially Gil Evans, whose "Davenport Blues" was a highlight. Yet it underscored a problem that stifled some of the early transcriptions: the idea that the drummer can do no more than politely ping the cymbal as directed by the score. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and clarinetists Dan Levinson and Ken Peplowski were not asked to play down to the level of Bix's gang, so why must the rhythm section? Drummer Joe Ascione showed on the Evans arrangement that he has a lot more feeling than a metronome, and that feeling would have enlivened the creakier charts.

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