Speakeasy, June 9
As their name denotes, the Jazzaholics, the Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival's "New Jazz Showcase" headliners just can't play enough. Following the straight-ahead, funk-flavored jazz of the Brad Andrew Trio, and the Neo Trio's deconstruction blues-based jazz, the Jazzaholics, a tie-donning group of graduate students/players/composers from the UT School of Music, started soloing and never stopped. All four musicians (sax, keyboards, drums, and bass) excelled on their respective instruments, but really got down and dirty as a group. Not only were their changes taut, each band member watched and listened attentively while their bandmates soloed. The bass player, equally at home on the electric or acoustic, played power-walking bass lines while the drum parts were as tight as a newly laced pair of Chuck Taylors. The sax player, alternating between the soprano and alto saxes, blew the horns with his whole soul. The keyboard player didn't waste any time in heating things up with a Latin-flavored tune dedicated to Chick Corea (to be included on a soon to be released recording), as the song reaching an early Eighties Miles Davis-like intensity with syncopated drumming, hummingbird sax runs, and what can only be described as a bad-ass key solo. "Allegro ConFusion" was yet another hot number, replete with a sax/drum duet that rocked the house. Earlier that evening, the majority of the crowd seemed to be more interested in the bar than the musical aspects present, but within a few hours, the ratio of jazz fans to drinkers increased. Sure, there were a few people present who, for some reason I can't fathom, needed to use their cell phones at all times, but mostly the audience was receptive to the bands. And given the fact that a weekly jazz jam was simultaneously going on across the street at the Elephant Room, Harold McMillan & Co. should be proud of the Monday night crowd at Speakeasy. While the evening's music was played at different levels of proficiency and panache, it all had that swing and was a fine showcase of local jazz talent. -- David Lynch
Clarksville Jazz Festival, June 10-12
Having just completed its ninth year, the Clarksville Jazz Festival was finally able to pull off a coup of spectacular proportion that was worthy of its long held vision of having national talent in a truly grassroots, community setting. Texas trumpeter Roy Hargrove, Waco-born and Dallas-bred, brought his 10-piece, all-star international superband, Crisol, to town for the first stop on a summer-long tour that will hit most of the major jazz festivals in North America and Europe. The band's three-day residency in Austin was basically a rehearsal/tune-up for the high profile dates that would start just days after leaving Austin. And they certainly made the most of their stay here, spreading themselves around town and making it possible for anyone who really wanted to see them to do so quite readily. On Tuesday, having been in town only a few hours, the band loaded into KUT's Studio 1A for a prime-time, on-air performance, running through most of the material from their new Verve album, Habana. A few hours later, Hargrove and several band members were down at Cedar Street jamming with local youngbloods like Fred Sanders, Elias Haslanger, Ephraim Owens, and Freddie Mendoza. When I left close to 2am, the joint was still jumpin'. Unfortunately, Cuban piano legend Chucho Valdez was delayed a day in arriving here because U.S. Customs would not permit his entry into the country, and he was forced to fly through Mexico City in order to get into Texas. On Wednesday afternoon, the band held an open-to-the-public rehearsal at the Victory Grill and that night, after hanging with locals at the bar at Cedar Street, Hargrove and Valdez jammed briefly with local Cubaphiles, Son Yuma. Thursday afternoon, Hargrove & Co. played for over an hour at Tower Records on the drag. The mid-week extravaganza culminated Thursday night at the State Theater with the band's first "official" concert performance of their tour. The band was greeted by a full house of zealously appreciative fans who rightfully sensed this was a special event for Austin. Although the group's ensemble work was still a little rough around the edges, it was a wonderful treat to hear a world-class, four-horn front line of trumpet, alto, tenor, and trombone wailing in unison, reminiscent of any number of Art Blakey's classic Jazz Messenger lineups. It was certainly music to these ears! As for the individual soloists, they made no bones about playing for keeps. Hargrove, Valdez, guitarist Russell Malone, bassist John Benitez, and conga player Miguel "Anga" Diaz all stretched out on inspired flights. Puerto Rican tenor saxophonist David Sanchez, in particular, raised the roof with a scorchingly passionate solo in the high registers. I was only able to stay for the first several numbers, trombonist Frank Lacy's "O My Seh Seh," former Austinite Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas" and Valdez's "Mr. Bruce," but was told by two reliable sources that this first third of the concert was not to be topped in the final hour. Nevertheless, you won't find many dissatisfied customers in this jazz-starved city. Still, I'd sure like to hear this band a month into their tour with a string of dates under their belt -- the Europeans are in for a real treat. Kudos to Harold McMillan and all the folks at the Clarksville Jazz Festival -- y'all outdid yourselves this year.
-- Jay Trachtenberg
Caucus Club, June 13
"The further jazz moves away from the stark blue continuum and the collective realities of Afro-American and American life, the more it moves into academic concert-hall lifelessness, which can be replicated by any middle class showing off its music lessons." Amiri Baraka's bold statement about jazz and its future was certainly relevant to the Acid Jazz Showcase, a welcome component to the Clarksville Jazz Fest. The "collective realities" of the milieu that created and developed jazz as a style is the same environment that created and developed funk, rap, hip hop, et. al. Acid Jazz can, on one hand, be viewed as a contemporary bridge between jazz and some of these more recently formed African-American art forms. On the other hand, it functions the same way its components do -- creating something new by combining existing forms. Folk blues begat jazz, blues begat rock & roll, rap begat hip hop, etc. Likewise, all of these elements (plus a few others) begat acid jazz, a style that's been around, in name at least, for about a decade. In fact, two newer styles -- jungle and trip hop -- are but branches from the burgeoning acid jazz tree. But what the hell is "acid jazz" anyway? That's a good question, and like all good questions, the answer you get depends on whom you ask. Acid jazz is not jazz in the common sense of the word, but rather jazz played live and/or mixed with groove-laden back tracks. It's music that's more visceral than cerebral. And that's about as specific as it gets -- that and what Concerto Grosso and DJ Sun did at the Acid Jazz Showcase at the Caucus Club. Consisting of horns, guitar, steel drum, and bass, Concerto Grosso, lead by local trumpet sensation Ephraim Owens, could share the bill with most jazz bands in town. Quite simply, they smoked. While they took a break, the audience was treated to Houston's DJ Sun and his turntable magic. Sun, originally from the Netherlands via Suriname, skillfully mixed the beats and sounds on two turntables, producing a veritable groove synthesis. Slowly, members of Concerto Grosso began playing along with DJ Sun's mixed tracks, starting with the tenor sax blowing over the top of Sun's chunky tracks, blending so naturally that you'd swear the horn you were hearing was on vinyl. Next, other members of the group started playing until the stage pumped out complex and rewarding sounds from the small orchestra. I don't know how much, if any, the band practiced with Sun, but it certainly sounded like they were joined at the hip. While they weren't as responsive to the mixed tracks as much as the live music, the audience couldn't help but move to the headboppin' goodness pouring forth. The Acid Jazz Showcase is an important part of the Clarksville Jazz Fest: It demonstrates that the fest organizers are willing to showcase one of jazz's more recently formed progenies, one that deserves wider exposure here in Austin.
-- David Lynch
Pease Park, June 14--15
The Clarksville Jazz Festival's wrap-up at Pease Park had all the ingredients required to cap off a solid week of satellite shows: The big names were here, there were plenty of sponsors, vendors, food and beer, and the weather was predictably warm and sunny. Roy Hargrove's show at the State Theatre was going to be a tough act to follow, but New Orleans patriarch Ellis Marsalis' performance on Saturday proved a perfect complement to the former's rousing set of Cuban-flavored jazz. Marsalis was the picture of composure, as he, drummer Chris Searles, and bassist Chris Marsh meandered through a short hour of pure and traditional songs. Martin Banks, along with local sax man Elias Haslanger, joined the trio for a short jam, showing he's weathered time far better than his too-few local gigs would suggest. Banks provided many highlights of the day, as he turned in inspired solos with Haslanger and pianist James Polk in an earlier set as well as cool-muffled accompaniment to the vocals of Hope Morgan. Between Banks' and Haslanger's straight-ahead rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood" and Marsalis' turn with "Sweet Georgia Brown," the traditional sounds got full representation, and that provided a good counter to Sunday's relatively jazzless lineup. There were moments when it seemed the audience's limits for what they wanted to see at a jazz festival were being pushed, as was the case during the East Babylon Symphony's set. A squealing alto sax solo over a hurried bass line reached such a high and sustained pitch that all dogs were running for the creek and most people were putting palm to ear. Yet as the crowd looked to each other for explanation at the beginning, by the time he finished that note and brought it back down they all went nuts and offered the only ovation to a solo in the set to that point. Smiles and audible sighs were good indication that a jazz fest doesn't have to be only that. Blues Boy Hubbard (inducted into the Austin Jazz Hall of Fame before his show) took that notion in another direction and showboated an hour of dirty blues and traditional R&B tunes. Julianna Sheffield's show provided a slight return, as did an earlier set by the Jazzaholics on the side stage, but it was evident that the day's peak would be reached when Toni Price came on. There should be a law stating that all outdoor music festivals in Austin are required to have Toni Price on the bill. Jazz it's not, but it was the perfect thing for a Sunday afternoon. Though it usually seemed that there should be more people around, the yearly jazz fest seems to be gaining momentum, and the prospects for next year's 10th anniversary are pretty bright. -- Christopher Hess
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