The groove was invariably present at the Waterside Stage, where the Marsalis Music label set up camp. The Rodriguez Brothers and Miguel Zenón varied the post-bop vocabulary with Latin dance forms, which always tended to bounce in unexpected places. And not only did Chilean singer Claudia Acuña combine pan-American folk and jazz rhythms, she had guitarist Juancho Herrera introduce Ellington's "Come Sunday" with a bit of Delta slide.
MR. DEFINITELY: Mos Def has one clear advantage over the instrumental jazz greats at the festival — words.
There was big sound, grooves aplenty, and more showy virtuosity on the Fort Adams mainstage from Joe Lovano's Us Five (with Spalding), Roy Haynes's Fountain of Youth Band, the Branford Marsalis Quartet, and Joshua Redman's Double Trio. On the Harbor Stage, James Carter again played saxophone superman with his greasy-grooves organ trio, and Seven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra calibrated a truly orchestral rave-up — beginning with plucked guitar, bass, and violin and ending in full-ensemble assault — from Prince's "Darling Nikki."
Another Rodriguez, pianist Alfredo, went in a whole different direction on the Waterside Stage. The only solo performer in the festival, he fashioned etudes that went from "Body and Soul" to stride to allusions to Chopin and Bartók and back again, sustaining compositional dynamics and linear tension, the close-up details all clearly legible.
The other thing singers have that the more abstract jazz players don't is songs. Dave Brubeck made that clear on Sunday when he played "Stormy Weather" under gathering clouds on the Fort Stage. It was followed by "Yesterdays," both easily reaching those outer lawn chairs as he luxuriated in melody.
Of course, singers get words too. That's an advantage Tony Bennett had Sunday when Brubeck joined him for "That Old Black Magic" (a tune they'd played together at the JFK White House). And it was an advantage for Mos Def, who had an easier time rapping than singing but also was affecting when he sang a piece that seemed aimed at the memory of Michael Jackson ("What's it like to be a king before you're even a man?/What's it like to be a star before you can even understand?"). Mos played his generous set with a full horn section of jazz ringers (it included musical director Casey Benjamin) and a six-woman string section.
It was words that connected Bennett on the big stage and the Bad Plus on the Harbor Stage. While Wendy Lewis was singing the Wilco lament "Radio Cure" ("Distance has no way of making love understandable"), Bennett was singing "I Got Rhythm" and then "But Beautiful": "And I'm thinking/If you were mine I'd never let you go/And that would be but beautiful I know." Sometimes it's difficult to get beyond words.
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