Birds of a feather

By JON GARELICK  |  August 15, 2007

Which brings up another point — how many ways are there to play in a particular style? The Saturday mainstage performances were bookended by two titans of post-bop tenor saxophone, Joshua Redman and Branford Marsalis. To over-generalize: Redman is button-down, sly, Rollins-esque; Marsalis is Coltrane — epic and sprawling. Both bands were equally exciting (Redman is working his current trio tour, with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Eric Harland), but Marsalis’s quartet was scary. From the get-go, his players were screaming at each other — not just musically, but vocally, egging on drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts or bassist Eric Revis. Revis responded by taking a solo that broke from hard-walking single notes into strummed double stops and then growling clusters. From the first, Marsalis was digging into the repeated descending figure of “Jack Baker” like a mantra, the band as a whole creating a dense drone. At times, the music seemed ready to tear apart into the squall of the latest of late Coltrane, but then Marsalis would bring it back with his lovely soprano feature, “Hope,” or Monk’s “Rhythm-a-Ning.” Then the music expanded again and came back to another Marsalis original, “Samo.” This too was sprawling, epic, another descending, mantra-like theme, but the rhythm fell in line, and after the set several people left the field humming it.

Marsalis and Redman played the main stage, and held it, with challenging, beautiful, but not always pretty music. That was another contrast to the day: while Turre was leading his Rahsaan assault, tenor Harry Allen was blowing the sweetest of whispers across the bar lines in his Getz/Jobim tribute. While bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Russell Malone, and pianist Mulgrew Miller were playing chamber jazz in the Pavilion Stage, Donald Harrison’s Quintet (with twentysomethings Christian Scott and Esperanza Spalding) was playing New Orleans hard bop on the Waterside Stage. And while Al Green was pumping the crowd with “Let’s Stay Together” and “Love and Happiness,” Howard Alden and Bucky Pizzarelli were playing delicate swing guitar duets. The Cuban reed player Paquito d’Rivera took a surprising chamber-like approach to the main stage with his “Panamericana” program of Latin jazz, playing beautiful clarinet with a group in which one member doubled on trombone and cello and a special guest brought down the house with a Colombian jazz take on the harp.

Maybe the most individual of the weekend’s sets belonged to the great post-avant trombonist Roswell Rudd, a former Yale-trained ethnomusicoligist whose music has included everything from championing Herbie Nichols and Thelonious Monk to, more recently, jamming with Malinese kora player Toumani Diabate and Puerto Rican cuatro player Yomo Toro. At the Newport Waterside stage, he played with pianist Lafayette Harris, bassist Brad Jones, and singer Sunny Kim (no drummer!). Roswell’s sound, as usual, was huge and all-encompassing. And the songs he played with Kim had a raw, beseeching joy. There was Monk (“Jackie-ing”) but also several original blues, one of the best of which went, “I’m going sane/one day at a time.”

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