Monterey >> A good crowd gathered and friends greeted one another as the 61st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival got underway Friday night and Saturday morning at the Monterey Fair and Event Center.
With the opening act of the Hristo Vitchev Quartet providing a welcome backdrop Friday night, Festival regulars reconnected and newbies found their bearings before diving headlong into a weekend of diverse musical styles based on the jazz genre.
The Hristo Vitchev Quartet christened the brand new North Coast Brewing Co. Jazz Education Stage by Blue Clay. The quartet featured seasoned professionals including local musicians who mostly now live outside of Monterey. Leader and guitarist Vitchev, a Bay Area resident, brought the talents of pianist Jasnam Daya Singh, who we here in Monterey would remember as Weber Drummond. He traveled from Portland, Oregon to join with drummer Mike Shannon, originally from Big Sur, and bassist Dan Robbins of Santa Cruz. Great set guys
And so the evening proceeded to be one mind blowing set after another. There is a strong Year of the Woman program laid out over the festival’s three days, but there is also a major focus on diversity and variety of styles. Not that the festival hasn’t been like that forever, but in today’s jazz world under the umbrella of America’s original music form there are elements of Africa, Latin America, Middle East and other far off places. As well there is the excitement of hearing youthful boundary jumpers, like KNOWER, an underground quirky groove band; Cameron Graves, who played their music hard and intense; as well as Thumbscrew, an all-star trio of well known avant garde players who took their music to the limit.
The lovely Dianne Reeves as always wowed the crowd with her jazz vocals and improvisational scatting. Honored the night before with the Festival’s Jazz Legends Award, she was glowing with confidence. At a midpoint in her set before a full arena audience, she announced her dismay with how our country is faring at this time and propelled herself into a emotionally charged tune that featured a chant VOTE, VOTE, VOTE. She encouraged the audience to join in with her to amplify its importance.
All the Jimmy Lyons Stage performers were strong and the finely crafted compositions charmed the crowd. The Geri Allen tribute with festival Artists in Residence Tia Fuller and Ingrid Jensen had a section where recorded spoken words of wisdom from Allen felt like manna from heaven. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis presented a cleverly composed series of vignettes called “Spaces,” with male dancers enacting exaggerated animal characters represented in the music by Marsalis. Simply enchanting and a nice way to end the night with a smile.
The Blue Note at Sea tent hosted by Blue Note Records President Don Was overflowed as he conducted interviews with the major stars. Might need to increase the footprint for that one next year.
The Sunday performances not to be missed include local all star band Gary Meek Quintet, and the three highly anticipated sets in the arena with Charles Lloyd & the Marvels with Lucinda Williams, also featuring guitarist Bill Frisell; Celebrating Michael Brecker set with a stellar cast of musicians, and of course Norah Jones with Brian Blade and Christoper Thomas to cap off another year at the Monterey Jazz Festival.