Named for a bakery established in Troy, NY, in 1913 -- the free cookies are addictive in 2013 -- Freihofer's Jazz Fest takes place at Saratoga Performing Arts Center the weekend before the Fourth of July. You can drive, take the Amtrak (less than four hours) or Adirondack Bus up the Hudson, and step into a jazz scene many seasons in the making. I've gone twice. I like it because I see a few New Yorkers but not too many. I travel light though the locals bring tarps, umbrellas, lawn furniture, coolers, blenders, you name it.
Between the amphitheater and the gazebo (about 100 diversion-filled yards apart), Danny Melnick staggers the programming with a mindful flow. So after The Cookers play hard bop with lyrical solos by pianist George Cables on the big stage, Ben Williams' Sound Effect at the gazebo takes that groove and adds a hiphop bump. That was a nice sequence. A rainshower comes and goes, umbrellas open but people do not run for cover.
I'd never seen Gamak, Rudresh Mahanthappa's quartet with double-necked guitarist David
Fiuczynski, Francois Moutin and Dan Weiss, but I like the CD. Outdoors, the sax and guitar sound so summery. The music has a vision, pitch and rhythm are in the cracks, yet the band is absolutely secure. I sought shade during McCoy Tyner's set in the amphitheater. After only the second or third tune, without any cue, the audience rose and gave him its first standing ovation of three, at least. Tyner looks less robust than he used to, and his powerful sound stirs emotions. His band has heart too -- guest John Scofield, Gary Bartz, Gerald Cannon, Francisco Mela.
The line of people to buy aerialist Gregory Porter's CD and get his autograph was longer than any food or drink line I saw all weekend. His band gives him great support. Brianna Thomas singing at the gazebo late Sunday kept people from fleeing a shower. She is young and swings. Ingrid Jensen's sound at the gazebo was particularly Miles-like. Jazz sounds good outside, especially at the gazebo.
Freihofer's Jazz Fest is manageable, user-friendly, and connects with the world, with Big Sam's Funky Nation from New Orleans on Saturday and Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa on Sunday. At night it appeals beyond jazz with David Sanborn and Arturo Sandoval on Saturday, Tony Bennett and Buddy Guy on Sunday.
Twenty-four hours after Tyner told the audience he wrote "Blues on the Corner" for his Philadelphia neighborhood -- the neighborhood he left for the John Coltrane Quartet -- Kevin Eubanks from Philadelphia played a soaring "Resolution" from Coltrane's A Love Supreme, with Kevin's quartet of Bill Pierce, Rene Camacho and Nate Smith. That Sunday afternoon set tied a lot of the threads and diverse sounds together.
This post was edited on July 19 to correctly identify the guitarist in Gamak as David Fiuczynski (not David Gilmore). -- B.P.