EN ANGLAIS, S’IL VOUS PLAÎT: “There’s nothing French about that horn,” said Dave Douglas of bandmate Vincent Chancey’s brass.
Someday I'll book my own show at the Middle East upstairs with an idea stolen from renegade alto-saxophonist Jeremy Udden: "Jazz Bands Who Can Open for Dinosaur Jr." Based on their performance Sunday afternoon at George Wein's CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival, KenVandermark's Powerhouse Sound go to the top of a list that will also include Udden's Plainville and Jim Black's AlasNoAxis. We'll lose thousands. It will be awesome.
The Sound include multi-reed guy Vandermark (in this case playing tenor), electric-bassist Nate McBride, drummer John Herndon, and electric-guitarist Jeff Parker. So, picture it: you've got a drummer banging out full-assault backbeats like Murph, a bassist with a taste for big, guitaristic, feedback-distorto solos, and a guitarist who splits the diff between early John McLaughlin and Blood Ulmer. It's like an indie-rock band, but with a saxophonist and an African-American guitarist who plays sitting in a chair. Vandermark has always had a taste for driving his mixed meters with rock beats, and the Sound — at least to go by Sunday — offer up those inclinations unadulterated. At times, I thought Vandermark had handicapped himself by going for the big horn instead of soprano or alto — something to cut through the heavier sludge. But he held his own and then some, tearing up with his own solo space and saving one stiletto-precise cut of a high shriek as a climax. Last year, he overturned the festival's second stage with his Vandermark 5, whose line-up included electrified cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm in the role of guitar hero. I missed that crew a little bit, but not much. "Thanks to George Wein for taking a chance on us two years in a row," Vandermark shouted into the ovation.
So what else was there to like or not like at Newport 56? Or rather, what was not to like? If you really wanted to bitch, it could be about Chris Botti's silk-underwear music, but by the time I got out to hear his closing set Sunday night, he was playing Miles Davis's "Flamenco Sketches" with a crack band including guitarist Mark Whitfield and bassist Carlos Henriques, plus, on another number, a special guest appearance by violinist Lucia Micarelli (Annie on HBO's Treme). So shut my mouth.
In fact, just about every act here was want-to-see. A far cry from the days when Wein used to bulk up the festival with pop. (Uh, Natalie Cole?) But since it turned 50 and George passed 80, he's looked more and more to Newport as his legacy. Yes, Herbie Hancock played too loud and too out-of-date-synthy (does anyone really like that sound?), but it was still Herbie playing a funked-up "Watermelon Man" and an acoustic-piano "Cantaloupe Island." There were also tastes of his too-poppy new The Imagine Project. (Yes, that "Imagine.")
And, no, I don't care for Jamie Cullum — Saturday's closer. The adorable young Brit is a huge crowd pleaser (he also played the weekend's opening event, Friday night, on the grounds of the International Tennis Hall of Fame), but to me his "pop songs with piano solos" make him the '00s' Billie Joel of jazz. At Fort Adams, he sang Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick out of You" in an extended scat duet with bassist Chris Hill that climaxed with: "I get a kick in the balls! . . . She gives me a kick in the face!" So punk!