The 2014 Monterey Jazz Festival
     The 57th annual Monterey Jazz Festival, like the first 56, was held at the Monterey Fairgrounds during the third weekend of
September. Under the direction of Tim Jackson, Monterey continues to be not only the top annual festival held on the West Coast but
one of the great jazz festivals of the world. Many of the top modern jazz artists were featured on five stages so there was always plenty
to see, hear and experience.
      As one entered the fairgrounds, they were greeted by the duo of pianist Jeremy Siskind and alto-saxophonist Caleb Curtis. While
one missed Judy Roberts & Greg Fishman (who had been in that spot the past five years), Siskind and Curtis did a fine job of playing
bop and swing classics such as “Tricotism” and “Memories Of You” throughout the weekend.
      Friday night officially opened with Sambada, a group with several singers, percussionists and a solid soloist in keyboardist Tammy
Hall. It was pleasing music but not really jazz; an Afro-Cuban jazz group would have been more fitting. A quintet co-led by singer
Claudia Villela and tenor-saxophonist Harvey Wainapel performed their own interpretations of bossa-nova classics from Stan Getz
and the Gilbertos. This setting brought out the best in Villela, who extended the legacy of Astrud Gilberto by also scatting and
stretching the music while Wainapel purposely hinted at Getz’s sound.
      Cecile McLorin Salvant was featured at two different venues, and was outstanding both times. She emphasized dramatic
interpretations of a wide variety of material including “Yesterdays” (hitting low notes with confidence), “The Trolley Song”
(reminiscent of Betty Carter), “Guess Who I Saw Today,” “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” (much different than her version a few
months ago at Catalina’s), Bert Williams’ “Nobody,” and a saucy “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.”
      The up-and-coming tenor-saxophonist Melissa Aldana led a pianoless trio through her post bop originals, sometimes hinting at
Sonny Rollins (due to the instrumentation) while showing a great deal of potential along with original ideas. Tenor-saxophonist and
flutist Charles Lloyd made his first of three appearances, playing folk-oriented melodies in a trio with tabla master Zakir Hussain (who
also sang) and drummer Eric Harland. The Robert Glasper Experiment again showed that the fine pianist is more interested in
performing repetitive r&b (reminiscent at times of Lonnie Liston Smith’s mood music of 40 years ago) than creative jazz these days.
Bassist Christian McBride clearly enjoyed himself playing straight ahead jazz (including “East Of The Sun”) in a trio with pianist
Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr.
      The Sarah McKenzie Quintet featured talented young musicians from Berklee. McKenzie proved to be an equally skilled pianist and
singer, displaying a lovely voice on “Got The Blues Tonight,” “Moon River” (accompanied by guitarist Andrew Marzotto) and “I Won’t
Dance.” The instrumentals with the fine tenor-saxophonist Daniel Rotem, included Monk’s “Criss Cross.” Veteran pianist Harold
Mabern was in top form during his trio performances with bassist Michael Zisman and drummer Peppe Merolla, particularly on
“Mister Stitt” and “Cherokee.” In contrast, Herbie Hancock was again a bore at Monterey. Performing a similar set as he did two years
ago, Hancock played well in spots but mostly stuck to predictable versions of his hits (such as “Chameleon,” “Watermelon Man,”
“Canteloupe Island,” etc.).with a quartet that included guitarist Lionel Loueke. While it may be too much to ask for Hancock to play on
the creative level of his contemporary Chick Corea, is it too much to expect him to play something more interesting at Monterey than
his tired old show?
      Saturday afternoon at Monterey used to be dominated by the blues but now is much more of a grab-bag of styles and idioms. Red
Baraat offered East European dance music that was entertaining, danceable and featuring a virtuosic dancing sousaphonist (Jonathan
Lampley) and several fine horn soloists. A Downbeat Blindfold Test hosted by Dan Ouellette found Lionel Loueke guessing the
identities of several guitarists (including George Benson and Kurt Rosenwinkel) but not Kenny Burrell. A panel discussion on the 75-
year history of the Blue Note label with its president Don Was and Robert Glasper had humorous storytelling by Bobby Hutcherson
about Alfred Lion. A spirited r&b and soul set by organist Booker T. Jones was highlighted by his 1962 hit “Green Onions.” Davin &
The Vagabonds, led by pianist-singer Davina Sowers, ranged from low-down blues to the only trad jazz of the weekend, “Shake That
      Drummer John Hanrahan’s quartet featuring tenor-saxophonist Brian Gephart did a superior job of performing all of John Coltrane’
s “A Love Supreme” from 50 years ago, earning a standing ovation for their ability to pay homage without strictly copying Coltrane’s
recording. The United States Air Force’s 17-piece Commanders Jazz Ensemble was excellent on Oliver Nelson’s “Miss Fine,” “Groove
Merchant,” “Lady Bird” (which had some nice tenor playing from Jeffrey Hall) and “Satin Doll” A panel discussion on the late pianists
Mulgrew Miler and James Williams had Harold Mabern, Donald Brown and Geoff Keezer talking about the Memphis jazz scene. Gary
Clark Jr., a direct and expressive singer and a superior blues guitarist, performed high-quality blues and roots music. Singer Becca
Setevens, who also played ukulele, performed a variety of folk and pop music with a group that included Liam Robinson on accordion.
The remarkable vocalist Lisa Fischer (a background singer no more) performed a soul/r&b set for a packed house. The Cuban group
Habaneros teamed together clarinetist Alden Ortuno Cebezas and a string quartet on charming traditional melodies, creating a blend of
classical music and swinging jazz. An all-star group from the Blue Note label called Our Point Of View consisted of trumpeter Ambrose
Akinmusire, tenor-saxophonist Marcus Strickland, Lionel Loueke, keyboardist Robert Glasper (at last playing jazz), bassist Derrick
Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott during a very strong and exciting set of post bop originals. Strickland’s fiery playing really
challenged Akinmusire.
      In contrast was Jason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party. Moran played songs from Waller’s repertoire with his quartet but turned
most of them into one or two-chord funk jams, making tunes such as “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” sound extremely
boring. His inferior singer did not help during this fiasco. While Fats Waller would have hated that “tribute,” Laura Nyro would have
loved what Billy Childs did to her music. The pianist’s quintet (with altoist Steve Wilson and Carol Robbins on harp), guest Ambrose
Akinmusire and a string quartet performed an instrumental and on two vocal features apiece for Shawn Colvin, Becca Stevens and the
powerful Lisa Fischer. Laura Nyro’s songs were given a jazz sensibility while retaining their essence. Later that night, Childs and his
combo had an opportunity to stretch out on such originals as “Backwards Bop” and the pleading ballad “Stay.”
      The biggest misfire of the weekend was the decision to book The Roots, a hip hop/rap group, on the main stage on Saturday night.
Considering its lack of jazz content, one had to wonder why this happened.
      Pianist Aaron Diehl, with a quartet featuring vibraphonist Warren Wolf, paid tribute to John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet
with the commissioned piece “Three Streams Of Expression,” fully capturing the sound of the MJQ. Christian McBride’s Philadelphia
Experiment had a funky reunion with keyboardist Uri Caine and drummer Questlove that included funny stories about their high
school days in Philadelphia; organist Booker T. Jones guested part of the time.. Charles Lloyd played melodic duets with pianist Gerald
Clayton. Pete Escovedo led an 11-piece Latin jazz orchestra that was a perfect setting for him, delighting many dancers. Pianist Donald
Brown, leading a quartet with trumpeter Joe Mazzafero,, played the songs of James Williams and Mulgrew Miller with spirit, creativity
and swing.
      While two of the venues on Sunday afternoon were dominated by college bands, plenty of pros were kept busy too. Unfortunately
pianist Jon Batiste & Stay Human did a similar show as they had performed at Playboy, tearing apart standards with lots of energy but
rather obvious humor; they need a much better jokewriter because it just was not funny enough. Youn Sun Nah may not be known yet
but she is already a great singer who can hit hold endless long notes and can scat very complex lines. She was impressive in a duo set
with guitarist Ulf Wakenius. Marcus Miller and his young sextet were in top form at the Main Stage, with Miller clearly enjoying being
at Monterey. The band sounded inspired on the mixture of straight ahead and funky material with altoist Alex Han showing that he is a
future great.
      Michael Feinstein is an odd choice to book at a jazz festival and his late-night performance with a big band, a tribute to Frank
Sinatra, ranged from decent to corny. Guitarist Russell Malone and tenor-saxophonist Harry Allen, who should have had their own
sets, made worthy but relatively brief appearances. However Feinstein was great earlier in the day when he showed his vast knowledge
in his discussion of the origin of many tunes from the Great American Songbook.
      The Minor Thirds Trio, a mellow group consisting of guitarists Brian Fitzgerald and Hood Chatham and bassist Patrick North,
entertained partyers on the South Lawn on Sunday afternoon. Trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom played high-powered avant-funk with his
quintet that was often happily overcrowded; altoist Gavin Templeton was particularly outstanding. Drummer Brian Blade’s Fellowship
Band with Melvin Butler and Myron Walden on saxophones performed heated and consistently stimulating music. Pamela Rose with
organist Wayne De La Cruz, was rollicking on “He Loves Nobody But Me,” highly expressive on “Close Your Eyes” and bluish on “It’s
Raining.”  Pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa is a passioate player with very impressive technique, a future giant from Cuba who was dazzling
with his trio. After making many guest appearances, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire finally had his own set, leading a modern quintet
that included the outstanding tenor-saxophonist Walter Smith III. Pianist Geoff Keezer, with bassist Richie Goods and drummer
Ulysses Owens, Jr, swung hard and with constant creativity and exuberance during his brilliant performances, sometimes playing on
the level of Oscar Peterson particularly on the uptempo blues “Fourplay.” Tenor-saxophonist Ben Flocks sounded wonderful with his
quintet on “Stardust,” playing with the beauty of Stan Getz. Organist Tony Monaco’s trio with guitarist Bruce Forman performed a
variety of blues and swing tunes with soul. Charles Lloyd and his quartet with pianist Jason Moran played “What’s New,” “Let My
People Go,” and Lloyd’s hit from the 1966 Monterey Festival “Forest Flower” during a wide-ranging set that showed that the 76-year
old saxophonist is still at the peak of his powers. Drummer Eric Harland’s Voyager (which included Walter Smith, guitarist Julian Lage
and pianist Taylor Eigsti) showed just how colorful and exciting modern jazz could be, ranging from hard bop to free. Trombonist
Delfeayo Marsalis led a quartet that included his father pianist Ellis Marsalis. While Delfeayo was excellent on “Autumn Leaves,”
“When Sunny Gets Blue” and “The Flintstone’s Theme,” Ellis’ trio feature on “If I Were A Bell” was pure magic, one of the highpoints of
the entire festival.
      Needless to say, attending the Monterey Jazz Festival is essential for any serious jazz lover!