The 2016 Monterey Jazz Festival
          The annual Monterey Jazz Festival, which was held at the Monterey Fairgrounds for the 59th year in a row, was consistently
remarkable. On five main venues (a large amphitheater, a smaller stage and three indoor nightclubs), many of the finest jazz musicians
in the world performed. Most were inspired by the attentive, enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience, by the beautiful surroundings
and simply by being at one of the world’s most prestigious festivals. Tim Jackson, who has been the festival’s artistic director for the
past 25 years, deserves many thanks for helping this festival to flourish.
          This festival had a very strong opening and closing. The very first set was an international quartet of students from Berklee
performing as MIXCLA + 1. It was apparent from the opening number that the star was Cuban-born pianist-singer Zahili Gonzalez
Zamora. A brilliant classically-trained improviser who is a master of polyrhythms, she is also a very appealing and versatile singer.
Several times, she sang unisons with her own rapid ideas on the piano. Most impressive was when she effortlessly switched to singing
perfect harmonies at the uptempo pace with her piano; it was as if she was three-handed.  Zahili, who looked so happy to be performing
at Monterey, displayed confidence and joy while talking to the audience. The set (with trumpet, bass and the colorful percussionist
Takafumi Nikaido) made me think of the phrase “a star is born.” There is no doubt that Zahili is on her way to the top.
          Speaking of the top, tenor-saxophonist Joshua Redman performed exhilarating music each night with a different group. His
quartet Still Dreaming with cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Brian Blade are quite special. While mostly playing
original music, they are a tribute band to Old and New Dreams, the Ornette Coleman alumni group of the 1970s. The original quartet
consisted of Joshua’s father Dewey Redman, trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Ed Blackwell. Quite often Still
Dreaming sounded very close to the earlier group’s members. They all excelled at performing the interactive brand of melodic free
          I saw many other artists in briefer segments on Friday night. Drummer Jamison Ross contributed some powerful r&b-inspired
vocals to his own set which featured excellent solos from pianist Chris Pattishall and guitarist Rick Lollar. The great singer Cecile
McLorin Salvant lived up to one’s expectations on her inventive versions of “The Trolley Song” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It
Was.” Young Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez played his energetic brand of modern Afro-Cuban Jazz including “Invasion Parade.”
Veteran pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi (who remembered being at Monterey back in 1972) was in impressive form with her trio on “Long
Yellow Road” and a three-song medley from Porgy and Bess. Trumpeter-singer Bria Skonberg brought swing and New Orleans jazz to
the festival with her quintet which featured Evan Arntzen on tenor and clarinet. Ms. Skonberg’s sound, with its vibrato and shakes,
made her sound like a trumpeter from the 1930s. Highlights included “Swing That Music,” “Egyptian Fantasy,” her Peggy Lee-inspired
vocal on “Don’t Be That Way,” “Malaguena” and her own “Wear And Tear.” As Bria Skonberg accurately stated, she makes old songs
sound new and writes new songs that sound old!
          Friday night climaxed with a very successful tribute to what could be considered Quincy Jones’ last jazz albums, his A&M
recordings of 1969-71: Walking In Space, Gula Matari and Smackwater Jack. With Jones watching the show from the right side of the
stage, a 21-piece all-star group conducted by John Clayton featured such highly individual players as flutist Hubert Laws (who soloed
on nearly every song), trumpeter Sean Jones, guitarist Paul Jackson, Jr, Bob Sheppard on soprano, Dave Grusin on electric piano,
James Carter (who was underutilized but had one rip-roaring solo apiece on baritone and soprano), vocalist Valerie Simpson and three
background singers. Bassist Christian McBride was the musical director and there were guest appearances by Richard Bona and
Alfredo Rodriguez. Among the Quincy Jones arrangements were “Walking In Space” which was given an extended treatment that
topped the original, “Walkin,’” “Gula Matari,” “What’s Going On” and “Killer Joe.” However, it was harmonica great Gregoire Maret on
“Brown Ballad” who stole the show with his beautiful and haunting playing.
          Saturday afternoon included two appearances by Davina & The Vagabonds, a band featuring singer-pianist Davina Sowers in a
quintet that included trumpeter Zack Lozier and trombonist Stephen David Rogness. Their bluesy music ranged from New Orleans jazz
(with Rogness recalling Kid Ory at times) to jump music of the 1940s, from the lowdown r&b ballad “I’d Rather Be A Blind Girl” to Fats
Waller’s “Louisiana Fairy Tale.” The Guitarsonists matched together guitarists Chris Cain, Daniel Castro and “Mighty” Mike Schermer
in a blues shootout. Veteran pianist Larry Vuckovich paid tribute to Vince Guaraldi in the music and the leader’s storytelling. The
sextet “Bop Of The Bay” featured excellent playing from trumpeter Brian Stock on “Ceora” and a slower than usual version of
          Saturday night once again offered an overflow of major talents. Bassist John Patitucci’s Electric Guitar Quartet had expressive
and inventive playing from Adam Rogers and Steve Cardenas, with Brian Blade (who appeared with many groups that weekend) on
drums. They performed post bop jazz, the soulful groove of “Band Of Brothers” and a Thelonious Monk medley that included “Trinkle
Tinkle.” Pianist Joey Alexander, who is 13, sounded like he was a superb 30-year old with his trio. The masterful 75-year old pianist
Stanley Cowell, who played three sets with his trio, is clearly still in his creative prime, performing originals plus Richie Powell’s
“Time” and a fascinating version of “’Round Midnight” in which he purposely avoided directly stating the melody.
          The night was highlighted by three major matchups. Joshua Redman has toured and recorded with the Bad Plus so he fit right into
the group during their set of adventurous originals. Tenor-saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin matched power and ideas with
trumpeter Randy Brecker in a quartet with bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Mark Taylor. The spontaneous interplay between the
two horns was always a highpoint. Finally, Branford Marsalis (on tenor and soprano) and his trio with pianist Joey Calderazzo
welcomed Kurt Elling. Their live performance was a stark contrast to their recent ballad-oriented CD. They performed such numbers
as an enthusiastic “There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon For New York,” “Blue Gardenia,” and a celebratory “With Every Breath You
Take” with intensity and plenty of interaction. For the final number, “St. James Infirmary,” they were joined by the altoist Tia Fuller
and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, masterful musicians who had played earlier with Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project.
          Sunday afternoon, which included a Downbeat Blindfold Test with Christian McBride (who guessed 7 of the 8 diverse selections
correctly), had three major performances. Kamasi Washington, who has a commanding physical presence and is a strong tenor player
inspired by Pharoah Sanders, led a quintet with two drummers and singer Patrice Quinn. While he has been gaining a lot of attention
lately, his set sounded like a collage that changed styles, moods and grooves almost randomly. While spirited, there was little played
that could not have been performed in 1970 and perhaps the hype is a little premature although Washington has great potential.
          Gregory Porter, who ranks with Elling as jazz’s top male vocalist, charmed the crowd with his voice, friendly personality and high-
quality originals including “Take Me To The Alley,” “On My Way To Harlem” and “There Will Be No Love Dying Here.” Like Nat King
Cole, Porter sounds good singing anything but he should include a few more cookers in his repertoire.
           Drummer Tommy Igoe’s Groove Conspiracy is a big band that is driven by its enthusiastic leader. They played a memorable set
of the music of Steely Dan, turning the vocal music into instrumental jazz. Altoist Marc Russo (who played years ago with the
Yellowjackets), tenor-saxophonist Tom Politzer and guest guitarist Drew Zingg were all outstanding. There were also some stirring
solos from Randy Brecker who sat in on the last few numbers as did the fine singer Tony Lindsey.
          Things did not slow down much on Sunday night. Organist Ronnie Foster, who recorded for Blue Note in the 1970s but has had a
low profile ever since, showed in his soul jazz set (which included a classic version of “Isn’t She Lovely”) that he deserves much more
recognition. The little bit that I saw of tenor-saxophonist Donny McCaslin’s quartet set was so unremittingly intense that it seemed a
little humorous; I wish I could have seen more of that intriguing performance. Less interesting were the two improvisations by the
Wayne Shorter Quartet and his lengthy commissioned piece for the Monterey Jazz Festival Wind Ensemble. The playing of Shorter,
pianist Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade was top-notch but just not all that stimulating. Better was “Phase Dance” and
“Third World” by the Pat Metheny Quartet. The guitarist’s band with pianist Gwillym Simcock, bassist Linda Oh, drummer Antonio
Sanchez, had an acoustic sound and performed fresh versions of songs from the Pat Metheny Group days. Even better was guitarist
Dave Stryker’s quartet with tenor-saxophonist Eric Alexander and organist Jared Gold. Some of the pieces were tributes to Stanley
Turrentine including “Don’t Mess With Mister T.”  Everyone excelled on “Impressions” and “The Island.” Alexander in particular
deserves to be considered one of the greats. Joshua Redman led his regular quartet with pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Reuben
Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson through his third and final appearance. A giant since he first arrived on the scene, the
distinctive Redman has continued to grow as he showed on one of the finest version of “Stardust” that I have heard in years.
          The festival ended with organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. He played a typically rousing set with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and
drummer Johnathan Blake which concluded with the simple but effective spiritual piece “Pilgrimage.” After taking bows, Smith
spontaneously picked up his electrified cane and played it like a drum set or an electric bass. When something malfunctioned and the
cane’s electricity got cut off, there was a sad moment. But Kreisberg rushed back to his guitar, played a funky riff and the trio romped
through an unexpected final jam before an audience that was inspired to dance wildly. It was the perfect ending to a special festival.