Ten best bets at the Newport Jazz Festival

High notes
By JIM MACNIE  |  August 1, 2012

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The Newport Jazz Festival has been on a roll these last few years, blending the commercial clout of big names with the creative cred of adventurous newcomers. Now 86 years old, esteemed impresario George Wein has had a much more active hand in the programming of late, and he still has chops when it comes to determining who's happening and who's not. From saxophonist John Ellis (who is also bringing his Double-Wide combo to AS220 on Friday) to drummer Dafnis Prieto (who kills as a matter of course) to composer Darcy James Argue (who wowed the 2010 crowd), the 2012 edition is dotted with insightful choices. With three stages running at once at Fort Adams State Park, there's always some nail-biting going on for fans who want to see it all. Here are a handful of shows you'd best not miss.

DR. JOHN & THE LOWER 911 FEATURING JON CLEARY | FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 8 PM AT THE INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME | Is there a New Orleans artist who didn't walk away from the Katrina crisis a lot more pissed than before? The venerable pianist's anger has been nudged forward since a chunk of his city was washed away, and it's been good for his art. The recent Locked Down (Nonesuch) crackles with more vitality than previous outings, with the good doctor shouting down political perniciousness of all stripes. I caught one of his acclaimed Brooklyn shows in April, and the power he brings to solo piano romps like "Such a Night" is quite intact as well. On this festival opener slot, he grabs his NOLA bud Jon Cleary, whose latest disc is a nod to Allen Toussaint, for a big blast of Crescent City spirit. Sharing the bill is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, who kick around syncopation until every rump in the room is moving.

JACK DEJOHNETTE GROUP | SATURDAY, AUGUST 4, 12:40 PM | A ridiculous amount of energy comes from the stage when the veteran drummer puts his new(ish) team into high gear. DeJohnette has long been one of the few bandleaders who can judiciously bring out the best in electric jazz, and this outfit — with guitarist Dave Fiuczynski, keyboardist George Colligan, and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa — keeps subtlety in its sights while firing on all cylinders. Also recommended: Mahanthappa's Samdhi (August 5, 12:40 pm), another electric outfit that draws on his interests in south Indian music. They, too, are all about liftoff.

BILL FRISELL PLAYS JOHN LENNON | AUGUST 4, 12:50 PM | "I've always had some kind of itch to change things around," guitarist Frisell told me during an interview in Washington Square Park last summer. And though he's built a rep on sage improv moves, he plays it relatively straight on his disc of Lennon tunes — another sage move. From "Please Please Me" to "Beautiful Boy," the melodies are rich enough to do the heavy lifting, and the signature glisten of Frisell's outfit is enough to make them resonate anew. And for a splash of mercurial improvising, don't miss Frisell's duet with superb violinist Jenny Scheinman on Sunday at 11:20 am.

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  Topics: Jazz , Music, John Lennon, Bill Frisell,  More more >
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