September 21, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.Chris Potter (right) performs with the Scott Colley Trio at the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival. (Image Credit: John Whiting for NPR)
For the penultimate tune in his Monterey Jazz Festival set, bassist Scott Colley called a haunting ballad called "The Peacocks." It gave drummer Antonio Sanchez and tenor saxophonist Chris Potter a chance to inhabit a tune, to dig deeply into a melody and extract its rich marrow. It also afforded Colley a moment to plug the composer — the late, great pianist Jimmy Rowles, who he gigged with as a teenager growing up in Los Angeles. Skip ahead a few decades: Colley, now based in New York, has toured extensively with legends (Carmen McRae, Jim Hall, Herbie Hancock, Andrew Hill, etc.) and, increasingly, is bringing his own bands on the road.
Finally, that break in the action allowed him to praise Monterey. Colley had been coming north from L.A. to these same county fairgrounds since he was 12, he told the audience, and clearly relished the opportunity to perform his own music there. Speaking of which, the trio then slammed into a heavy, rock-ish beat on "Take It And Like It," leaving scorched earth and marveled expressions in its wake.
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September 21, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.Juan-Carlos Formell and Johnny's Dream Club at the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival. (Image Credit: Cole Thompson/Monterey Jazz Festival)
There was a lot going on in "Ciudad," the first song of Johnny's Dream Club's Monterey Jazz Festival set: a hint of early New Orleans jazz, tactful modern improvisation, poetic Cuban folk song. It all fit into what was essentially a two-chord song. And over and over, there was the haunting lyric, "Ciudad que se rompe / Cuando acaba la noche": "City that comes apart when the night ends."
That couplet serves as a microcosm of the band led by Cuban singer-songwriter Juan-Carlos Formell. Based in the U.S. for nearly two decades, he still hardly speaks any English, but his imagination is vivid. He conjured up Johnny's Dream Club as a venue — perhaps a romantic, divey haunt — in a long-lost New Orleans. He picked some of New York's top Latin jazz musicians to fulfill his vision. And he sat at the center, singing and strumming. By the time his second song finished, a dozen-or-so dancing couples had congregated in the back of the Night Club stage, swaying in his dream world.
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September 21, 2011. Posted by Simon Rentner.John Santos leads his sextet at the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival. (Image Credit: Cole Thompson/Monterey Jazz Festival)
There's an overtly political edge to John Santos latest recording, Filosofía Caribeña, Vol. 1: It's designed as a commentary on Afro-Latino history. Even if you don't speak Spanish, you could sense it when Santos' sextet performed this material — particularly in the strident, prideful and virtuosically bilingual raps of guest MC Rico Pabón. Jazz's social commentaries are often abstracted into instrumental music; here, it had literal voice.
But just as often, that aggression transmuted to commanding, original grooves, themselves morphing throughout the course of songs. Santos is a Bay Area mainstay, a musical anchor and outspoken ambassador of an active Latin jazz scene only two hours north of Monterey. And he's put together a tight band that works on both intellectual and physical terms, as they showed an excitable Night Club audience on the first night of the 2011 Monterey Jazz Festival.
© 2011 WBGO