I seem to have bookended my Jazz Festival 2013 in the most appropriate way. Saturday's Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis was as pure a form of big band jazz that you'll hear and see anywhere. The Orchestra played Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other composers' numbers in a professional, highly polished fashion- my cousin once told me that the benefit of big band is that the music tends to be highly danceable while also allowing for individual soloists to take the spotlight, this was quite evident on Saturday. I thought Wynton at times was almost caught in two minds- playing solos that were more dixieland style solos then switching to more be-bop mid-solo but maybe that was just my bias. When they switched to a 5 and 7 piece band for songs later on in the show I felt he let loose a bit more with his solos. In any case you certainly can never doubt Wynton's tone and technical abilities.
Contrasting this, on Thursday the 25th was Lean Left, a very Ornette Coleman-esque sounding quartet made up of Ken Vandermark (reeds), Paal Nilsson-Love (drums), Andy Moor (guitar) and Terrie Ex (guitar). They create a wall of sound with drumsticks on guitar strings feedback, high register counter points from saxes and clarinets against the driving rhythms from Nilsson-Love's rock and roll drumming style. They really are amazing in that they're able to change and stop on a dime without any obvious signals from any of the players. They're also really fun to watch as guitars get bounced off the floor and dragged across monitors all to great effect- literally.
David Murray Big Band featuring Macy Gray was yet another style that highlights the festival's diversity. Murray's chops complemented Macy Gray's powerful, gritty soulful voice and had the crowd enthralled. Each were able to step back to give one another space and imprint their respective style on the music and rather than sounding awkward their approaches really seemed to meld together well with the audience swelling in appreciation.
The Bad Plus on Friday was fairly poorly attended at least at the start- weather may have played a factor in that of course. But those that caught their entire show were treated to an amazing set. This trio from Minneapolis plays off of pianist Ethan Iverson's classical training to create a sound that's at once structured as well as dazzlingly improvisational. Hilarious banter, delivered dryly, broke up the flow of mind blowing improvisation– a great set.
The festival has of course become all about diversity in the styles of music on offer and these various styles allow festival goers to open themselves up to new genres and new types of jazz. A great approach that I think all but guarantees success year after year.