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Kool Keith Remains Defiantly Warped

Kool Keith is in a midtown diner reminiscing about his days walking around 42nd Street bumping funk from an oversized JVC boombox during the early ’80s. He’s supposed to promote his new album, Love & Danger (Junkadelic Music)—”It was pretty good,” he sums up while fondling a copy of the CD—but he’s happy to go off on tangents.

“Dudes would be looking at me crazy ’cause I’m not playing some early hip-hop that came out on a record from Sugar Hill,” Keith says. “I used to make cassettes of Cameo.”

Times Square has come up in conversation because of a tweet Keith sent out saying that it has been “watered down” from its vice-drenched heyday. As he slathers mustard on his turkey-and-Swiss sandwich (ordered on “the softest bread you have”), he holds court like a neighborhood old-timer who has seen the scene around him shift. He remembers the late ’70s, when he traveled down there from the Bronx to catch a movie with his father. (“Superfly or something,” is as specific as he gets.)

The “3-D action” all around him surpassed anything on the screen. Settling back in his booth, Keith describes a bustling menagerie of guys in Fila sweat suits hanging on Eighth Avenue, pinball spots and arcade parlors, and someone cruising around in a car made of fused-together parts from Ford, General Motors, and Volkswagen models. The whole scene was flanked by a line of Jheri-curled pimps looking to ensnare girls who’d just arrived at the bus station, and illuminated by the glare of kung-fu-flick-touting marquees and LED-lit boomboxes that made the guys carrying them “look like they’re carrying some big spaceship.”

But the ’90s brought the big cleanup. “They started to water Times Square down,” Keith says. “The Howard Johnson’s was gone. You started to see stores close and places like Benetton getting ready to come in. You started seeing McDonald’s. You started seeing all the porno spots being moved off of Eighth Avenue to, like, the side block.” Then the kicker: “You started seeing little kids on 42nd Street. I was like, ‘Wow, little kids are not supposed to be on 42nd.'” With that, Keith decides to focus on finishing his sandwich.

When Keith talks about Times Square’s pornography stores being shoved down side streets, he could be drawing a parallel with his own brand of hip-hop. The characters that inhabit his songs, and the many personas he takes on, come across like a warped version of the strip he recalls. He has rapped about hurling a rat with mayonnaise on it at a car’s headlights and taken on the role of an inappropriate gynecologist; he appears on the cover of Love & Danger wearing a cape with a shark’s fin on his back. Keith is a product of hip-hop’s late-’80s golden era, but as that music has become increasingly tolerable to the masses, he has kept faith in his seedy and often abstract lyrics and unfashionable, warped-synth-based beats.

Keith picks up the thread as we enter a dive-ish bar a couple of blocks away. Standing in the corner with a glass of chardonnay in his hand—”Do you have wine that’s soft?” he asked the bartender when ordering—he spends a good hour explaining the how and why of rap becoming watered down. Keith’s take is based on people rapping over the same-sounding beats, in the same style, using the same slogans, and concentrating on hooks instead of verses. To demonstrate his point, he makes up a song that repeats the word “Lemonhead” 12 times as the chorus, accented by a curt verse based around the phrase “sweet juice.” It’s a to-the-bone parody, and it sounds not all that dissimilar to some of the songs that have become summer hits recently. “The people are taking it in, they are gobbling it up, then the artists make another one right after that,” he says. Then he breaks into a new song called “Peanuts.”

The way Keith explains the homogenization of rap mirrors the way parts of the city have changed over the years. Times Square is now home to big-box stores, and the most commercially successful hometown anthem of recent times, Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” sounds like it was cut for a schmaltzy tale of big-city redemption. The rappers and the record labels, he says, are equally culpable. “The artists created it, but the labels love it ’cause people get drunk, and they love those TV dinners like Swanson. It’s like Domino’s Pizza—you order 10 of those songs for Monday Night Football.” He mimes working in a pizza spot and adds, “But it’s funny, they’re cooking ’em right now—put them in the closed boxes and load ’em on the trucks.” In a world of saturated sounds, it’s reassuring to know hip-hop still has one guy who’d prefer to drive a bespoke car to pick up a turkey-and-Swiss on soft bread. The secret must be in the mustard.

Kool Keith plays solo at Brooklyn Bowl on June 14 and as part of Ultramagnetic MCs at Music Hall of Williamsburg on June 17.

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AVANT GUARDIANS

The JVC bigwigs may have shot themselves in the economic foot, but the indie kingpins roll on, so the Vision Festival, the only action of NYC’s jazz fest season, may seem a bit more resonant than usual this year. No problem: the Visionaries have a strong, if typical, program to present. It’s been up and running since June 9, but the remaining three days are the stuff avant dreams are made of. From the expressionistic roar of saxophonist Peter Bröztmann’s Full Blast trio to the solo ruminations of veteran bassist Henry Grimes, a variety of dynamics are covered. Of special interest are bassist’s Joe Morris’ GoGo Mambo tentet (syncopated squall?), saxophonist Fred Anderson’s Trio (earthy extrapolations?), and pianist Matthew Shipp’s solo show (reflective recital?). The panel discussions, poetry readings, and visual art presentations round out a fest that convincingly presents itself as a thriving subculture.

Sat., June 13; Sun., June 14; Mon., June 15, 2009

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Where’s Waldo?

A brief July 9 press release about the flagship event that ran from June 16 to June 29 begins with an announcement from George Wein (“CEO of Festival Productions, Inc.”): “The 2002 JVC Jazz Festival-New York was the most successful JVC festival ever held in New York.” It was also the least jazz-like. JVC, whether good or ill or, per usual, in between, rarely reflects what is actually going on in the jazz world. This year it did—not musically, but culturally and economically as concerns New York, long considered jazz central. Like Uncle Tom in an episode excised from Duke Ellington’s Jump for Joy, Uncle Jazz is lying on his deathbed while producers and CEOs frantically administer adrenaline to keep him alive. It isn’t necessarily his music they hope to preserve, but his name, a valuable brand on seven continents.

Never in my experience has JVC presented so little jazz, or so few thematic and genuinely imaginative concerts. Even re-creations, with which we are admittedly surfeited, vanished from the bill. There was nothing novel, original, or newsworthy. A cursory look at programs scheduled for the Hague, Montreal, and other international jazz sites demonstrates the uniqueness of New York’s drought. Of eight concerts presented at Carnegie Hall, which according to the press release had a 90 percent ticket sale (that’s the source of the “most successful” claim), only half were undeniably jazz. Of the others, João Gilberto and Eddie Palmieri are tangential, though they have become deservedly admired JVC traditions; Michael Feinstein and Lauryn Hill were in on a pass. Of the four Beacon Theater concerts, only one (Roy Haynes and Wynton Marsalis) offered jazz, and it was a box-office disaster—probably in part because it was slated opposite one of the bona fide Carnegie jazz artists, Keith Jarrett. Of the mere three Kaye Playhouse shows, two were largely given over to cabaret.

True, much great jazz was heard nightly at Birdland and the Village Vanguard, but you can always hear great jazz there. Except for shorter stays (mostly one-nighters) and a two-for-one pricing gimmick that incorporated five other clubs and required a main-hall ticket stub, nothing about the JVC connection served to make those performances especially merry. At festivals in towns like Pori, Cork, Perugia, Nice, New Orleans, and San Francisco, as well as Montreal and the Hague and elsewhere, music lurks in many corners, often for the price of a beer or a general admission, and the small venues are essential pleasures. In New York, they suggest a guilt-edged Band-Aid for the cavernous hole into which jazz has disappeared; participating clubs get an official JVC banner and, if possible, more tourists than usual, and JVC can pretend comprehensiveness.

Since I spent most evenings at Carnegie, forlorn and confused, the thrill of hearing the Bill Charlap Trio with guests Phil Woods and Frank Wess may have been intensified. If you count, as JVC did, isolated events at the Schomburg Center (jazz: a Mickey Bass quintet) and the Apollo (not jazz: the Roots and Living Colour), and a free afternoon of university bands at Bryant Park, this was the eighth day of the festival, and the first opportunity to hear unadulterated, urgent yet laid-back, small-band, bebopping, mainstream jazz. Having just experienced evenings with João and Lauryn and a set of cabaret vaudeville, it was like coming home. Jazz!—ah, a grand old music. Birdland was packed tight with an audience conspicuously more attentive than those in the halls, where thousands of attendees apparently thought eight o’clock curtains would rise at 8:50. Charlap, a shrewd fellow, featured his guests on alternating numbers, demonstrating his own masterly ability to comp with precision, drive, and originality.

With bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, he may have the best piano trio extant, a slot vacated by Tommy Flanagan. It swings so effortlessly and unselfconsciously you get the feeling that any top-flight soloist could have walked on and found himself comforted and inspired. Woods, his sound bright with the sturdy glow that mixes beauty and defiance (still, at 70), brought Benny Carter’s “A Summer Serenade” to gleaming life, signing off with a stately cadenza; Wess, his approach to flute kinetic and spry (still, at 80), enlivened an original based on “Exactly Like You.” Joy turned to enchantment when the saxophonists (Wess on tenor) joined together for “What’s New?” (alternating theme and obbligato every eight bars) and the battle anthem “Blues Up and Down,” played super fast, both men roaring as Charlap thrust chords that shadowed and mimicked them, before essaying his own steely solo, building with abundant ideas. Even when indulging his rippling technique, he is never heavy-handed. And this was thought too rarefied for the customers on 57th Street?

For me, the festival got off to an enlightening start, but it had nothing to do with JVC, which is another problem with JVC. At the Knitting Factory, on the night Michael Feinstein was crooning with a 70-piece orchestra, Cecil Taylor led his 27-piece Sound Vision Orchestra in a premiere of “With Blazing Eyes and Open’d Mouth.” He was originally scheduled to play solo at Birdland, but apparently decided late in the day that the club would either accommodate his orchestra or nothing—a poor way of doing business, perhaps, but the SVO was primed to go, the massed voicings secure and resolute, pinning you to your seat with hurricane force. Like Ascension, it alternated solos and ensemble crescendos, which were written and varied (unlike Ascension‘s). It went on too long: Some soloists had little to say; others stood out, including altoist Bobby Zankel; singer Lisa Sokolov (whose volatile scatting and whooping made Taylor laugh aloud), one or two trumpet players I couldn’t see, and tenor saxophonist Andrew Lamb, whose mellow, understated attack inspired the pianist to full-throttle comping exuberance. The closing was inspired—a long, even winding down, like a great beast giving its last breath.

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As the Sound Vision Orchestra was followed, the next night, by the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra (discussed last column), optimism seemed warranted. But it dissipated. My third experience with João Gilberto was the anti-charm; his rite of performance, sure time, alluring voice, succinct guitar chords, and trance-inducing Portuguese seemed undernourished and repetitive. On a familiar piece, like “O Grande Amor,” one could luxuriate in familiarity, but too many lesser-known (to me, unknown) pieces blended into soup. And is ” ‘S Wonderful” the only North American song he considers worthy of his repertoire? He sang its chorus over and over (I lost count after seven), altering not the slightest nuance.

Lauryn Hill also took the stage with just voice and guitar, but where Gilberto said not a word, she paced her singing with a narcissistic volubility that circled her subject without tagging it, since she assumed that everyone present had spent at least as much time worrying about her travails as she has. Her music was ’60s folk with a religious curve, much deftly handled melisma, and chugging Richie Havens-style guitar chords. Her often pungent, even stirring voice and personal charm would have been better served had she maintained a few inches between microphone and lips—dynamics are not her strong suit. She perched so tenuously that more than once she felt obliged to summon a servant to move her footstool an inch this way or that or powder her hands—Minnesota Fats never used as much chalk. Her diatribe against the soulless cogs of the recording industry ranged from “The person was shrinking and the corporation was growing, but I’m not a corporation, I’m an individual” to “People been saying they made Lauryn Hill, but God made Lauryn Hill.” Intermittently audible lyrics also failed to elucidate, ranging from “I’m way too individual to fit your groove” to “There’s a reason for everything on Earth/[something, something] rebirth.” Stardom is rough, but it beats pushing a footstool.

Teddi King was a minor ’50s singer, tangentially related to jazz and by all accounts a perfectly delightful lady, who died young of lupus and in whose name periodic concerts are mounted in support of lupus research. The hour I caught, before rushing over to hear Charlap and company, was, to me, surprisingly agreeable, an opportunity to reassess a couple of jazz-cabaret performers I don’t often hear. But it was as talky as Lauryn Hill, as each performer said something about King before performing one song. Even Ted Mack was less brutal about time, and time ought to have been less pressing, because everyone said the same thing: She was a wonderful friend who chose good songs and focused on lyrics. Daryl Sherman, herself an ever deepening interpreter of words and music, opened with a dependably expressive and snug “Isn’t It a Pity.” Marlene Ver Plank, usually a bit smooth for my taste, offered an obscure Berlin ballad, “Fools Fall in Love,” revealing a centered pitch and radiant timbre that made me want to hear more. Barbara Carroll, with her disarming speakeasy voice, sang the Weill-Gershwin ballad “This Is New,” coming to life as the time doubled, allowing herself a cunning, jaunty piano solo full of block chords and rhythmical daring. Carroll, at 77, swings: If she worked downtown clubs, she might find a new, if less monied, audience than the one she long regaled at the Carlyle. Lillias White, a Broadway actor I’d never heard, kept up the rhythmic juice, after conceding that she had never heard of Teddi King when hired, and demonstrated verve and control in a soaring “I Didn’t Know About You” that flirtatiously threatened to go over the top but never did; she allowed Bucky Pizzarelli a stunning chorus. She has taste and style, as well as voice, and I’d have hung around for a second helping. The rest—including Barbara Lea working the words of “You Don’t Know What Love Is”—was less appealing.

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Patricia Barber, opening for Cassandra Wilson, was more convincing as pianist than singer, despite mannerisms that vie with Keith Jarrett’s for unpersuasive theatricality—wincing at every minor third, as though the blues caused her terrific pain. If it hurts when you touch it, don’t touch it! At its best, her trio has a pleasantly cool jazz sound, without muscle—easy listening, complete with la-la-la vocalizing, best in the interplay between piano and guitar, worst in the aching cleverness of her own songs, including one that mentioned every thinker in Philosophy 101 and another that mentioned every painter in Art 101. A brief appearance by Dave Douglas did little to alleviate the artsiness.

Wilson, the only performer I saw at Carnegie who received an offstage introduction, is one of the most compelling visuals in jazz: long white skirt, red top, bronze skin, golden hair, and megawatt smile that channels Faye Dunaway and Jeanne Moreau. Her primary gift is for adapting diverse material so completely that she makes it hers. She pulls it off with several songs on her recent CD, which provided the evening’s material, but it is a mistake to make every appearance a plug for the latest product—you lose a signature repertoire and a long-term connection with the audience. The program could only have been enhanced with a few of her benchmark interpretations of Son House, Robert Johnson, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Miles Davis, and the Monkees—better those than originals that blend together, the words barely intelligible, the rhythms repetitive. When she sang her current revisionist triumphs, she glowed and the audience snapped to attention: “The Weight,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Hot Tamales,” and best of all, “Darkness on the Delta,” backed only by bass and made languorously sensuous in her reading, especially on the bridge; and “Shelter From the Storm,” enacting the refrain with a steady and sexy maternalism, before interpolating, medley fashion, a chorus of “I’ll Remember April.” The supporting trio was less cluttered than her usual group; Geoffrey Haynes is an invigorating, original hand-drumming percussionist, Mark Peterson an empathic bassist, and music director Marvin Sewell a clever and versatile guitarist whose solos go on and on, riding the rhythm without bringing it to heel.

The sterling Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette trio gave an even better performance than last year—indeed, virtually perfect, with a minimum of vocalizing and a stunning selection of tunes that mixed standard standards (“I’m a Fool to Want You,” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Summertime,” “Last Night When We Were Young”) with jazz standards (“Four Brothers,” “Now’s the Time,” “Two Degrees East, Three Degrees West”), and a free improv. Why, however, does he make the audience beg and beg and beg for the two encores? After one belated bow, DeJohnette walked to the drums only to learn that there had not yet been enough begging and then had to walk offstage; after the next bow, Peacock made the same mistake. OK, it’s a small price. Jarrett and company, at least, know what they’re doing. I’m not too sure about JVC. If this year’s financial success breeds another year with as little resourcefulness, as little jazz, there won’t be much point in covering it. We will already have heard almost all of it worth hearing—year round, in the clubs.

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Minnie the Moocher’s Revenge

Say this of JVC: The plot changes annually. It may look the same on paper, may list toward the same artists, suffer the same limitations, capitulate to the same distractions, but George Wein’s flagship festival manages to take different turns each summer. If I am more conscious than usual of past vagaries, triumphs, subplots, and themes, contrived or otherwise, it is because midway through this edition, I realized that I had been reporting on the behemoth variously known as Newport-New York, Kool, and JVC for 30 years. Thus I thought I might peruse my old reviews. Two seem especially relevant: In 1991, the cast focused on under-40s and over-60s, leaving the boomers out in the cold, not for the last time; in 2000, every event paid its respects to the past. The current edition reversed both trends.

Identifying bona fide boomer jazz heroes requires some precision. I refer to those who came into their own when we were starting to listen, as opposed to those who, though only slightly older or even younger, were already established parts of our inheritance. Dewey Redman, who turned 70 in May but had no national reputation until 1967, makes the cut; Phil Woods, who turns 70 in November but was a star long before 1960, does not. Boomer heroes—notably Redman, Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, and did I mention Wayne Shorter?—accounted for most of the expectations and red meat at JVC 2001. Jazz’s past was evoked, but not fetishized. At a tribute to Coltrane keyed to the 75th anniversary of his birth, for example, no one ever mentioned John Coltrane or played any of his music in his style.

A very boomeresque motif developed. Never in my experience at a jazz festival was so much audience participation encouraged. Credit it to the unacknowledged influence of either Minnie the Moocher or Pete Seeger. I counted no fewer than four sing-alongs and four clapfests, not to mention practiced routines in which the audience was obliged to stand and whoop for five minutes in order to get encores already scheduled. We received no payment for our efforts.

The major concerts got under way at Kaye Playhouse, with “Who’s on First?” Repeating (sometimes verbatim, down to the patter) the Los Angeles engagement that Blue Note issued last year, Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough alternated individual sets and duets. Entertaining as the album is, the visual component is such that the two must be seen live to be fully appreciated: Frishberg, the short Brooks-blazer Midwestern Jew, who honed his neuroses during long stays on both coasts, writing and singing songs to fend off rude times and hifalutin clichés; and Dorough, the grinning, ponytail-wearing Arkansan beanpole, writing and singing songs to celebrate the dawn of a new day, invulnerable to absurdity. They have been friends for four decades, co-composed “I’m Hip,” and worked on Schoolhouse Rock. Each began as an accomplished bop pianist and celebrates jazz heroes in the language of jazz fans. Frishberg is knowingly funny, if occasionally saccharine; Dorough is accidentally funny, if occasionally overbearing.

On his own, Frishberg rambled from an understated piano medley of Harold Arlen to several of his best-known portraits—”My Attorney Bernie,” “Quality Time,” meditations on Zoot and Bix, the brilliantly arch yet genuinely nostalgic “I Want to Be a Sideman,” and a new song, “The Hopi Way,” which derives much humor from the melodic/verbal surprise of the tag line, countering a list of temptations and woes with the singer’s improbable allegiance to the Hopi creed. Dorough, for his part, patrolled the stage waving branchlike arms, switching between pianos, milking the audience, and having the time of his life, croaking and twanging autobiographical benchmarks: “Devil May Care,” “Nothing Like You,” musical settings to official prose (parking summons, laundry ticket), tributes to Bird, Billie, and Bechet (Don Nelson’s affecting “Something for Sidney”), and homages to Hoagy Carmichael—”Hong Kong Blues” and “Baltimore Oriole.” They wrapped up with a duet on “Conjunction Junction,” Dorough conducting the audience on the refrain. The crowd, apparently suffering from stage fright, was eerily high-pitched.

On the second night, instead of one of the usual swing or guitar evenings, Wein allowed Joshua Redman and Eric Reed to bring to Kaye a touch of Gen X modernism, which amounts to the modernism of midcareer Coltrane and Oscar Peterson. The event was nearly disastrous. Redman’s quartet, with the splendid drummer Gregory Hutchinson, spent 80 minutes playing his new CD, Passage of Time, which itself clocks in at under an hour. Dazzling cadenzas, unison tenor/piano themes, and the accretion of drones, fragmented themes, several meters (I think one long passage was in seven) provided moments of tension and variety. But such attractions were undermined by the increasingly evident preplanning of the thing—each passage fussily worked out until the life was leached out and the climaxes, accented with heroic body English, producing more false endings than Gone With the Wind. Reed’s septet played much of the same material from his Lincoln Center concert and new CD, Happiness, when he wasn’t indulging in lengthy introductions. He is a facile pianist who can approach profundity, as on “Three Dances,” but his compositions are banal, sometimes patronizingly so, as on his tributes to African American women, especially “Black Beauty.” I didn’t last the set.

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The third night, inexplicably titled “Cabaret Jazz Hall of Fame,” offered a suave set by Freddie Cole, his combo, and his royal timbre; followed by Blossom Dearie and her trio, mining more laughs from “My Attorney Bernie” than its composer with her faux-innocent phrasing and vocal quality. She fared best overall. Act II was more of a provocation: Ronny Whyte, who wore a white dinner jacket but chose to scat “Buttons and Bows” for the occasion, sent me racing to the lobby; it was my understanding that JVC provides a safe haven from lounge acts. Then it was time for 85-year-old Joe Bushkin. Jack Kleinsinger, our voluble host, uncharacteristically announced that he would turn over the introduction to Judy Garland, who led off an entertaining 10-minute film in which Bushkin spoke of his life amid clips with her, Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra, Crosby, Armstrong, and others. At a normal program, the lights would have come on to reveal the man himself; instead the lights revealed Kleinsinger for another introduction. Bushkin had had enough. He walked out and later made a rude remark about the majordomo that induced more gasps than laughs. Yet he played splendidly in his pop 1950s Teddy Wilson-at-cocktail-hour style, lush and spry; sang his two hit songs; told anecdotes mostly of the war; and started a medley from High Society that ignored “True Love” in favor of “Love for Sale” and “The Lady Is a Tramp.”

“A Love Supreme: Remembering John Coltrane,” at Carnegie, offered another kind of drama—waiting for some mention of Coltrane, which never came. A totally silent Roy Hargrove led his superb quintet through the festival’s single worst morass of acoustic madness. The sound was so boxy you had to strain just to penetrate the echoes and hear the notes. The first piece, which may actually have been by Coltrane, defeated me completely. But switching to flügelhorn for a few exceedingly laid-back ballads—two that Coltrane recorded (“I Wish I Knew,” “Nature Boy”) and one he didn’t (“I’m Glad There Is You”)—Hargrove penetrated the mist. Few musicians, Gen X or other, can embrace standards with Hargrove’s polish; at JVC, only Keith Jarrett matched him. I have no doubt that he could pull off, Clifford-like or, better still, Coltrane-like, a whole album of ballads. Altoist Jesse Davis played ferociously, though most of his efforts disappeared into the ceiling, and pianist Larry Willis offered acute comping and a lithe, Tatumesque touch. He was also exceptional later in the festival, as a member of Jerry Gonzalez and Fort Apache.

JVC’s most ambitious debut, the oddest in some time, was Slide Hampton’s arrangement of A Love Supreme, performed by Jon Faddis and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band with guest soloist Michael Brecker. The very idea was daunting, but Hampton pulled it off by ignoring religious connotations, focusing on the eight- and 12-bar themes from parts two and three, and permitting Brecker free rein in a cadenza acknowledging only the god of ravenous virtuosity. It was impossible, on one hearing, to grasp all the intricacies; I’m not sure how the first section—a 10-minute episode beginning with a choir of winds, a vamp, a percussion transition, and piping Faddis top-notes—relates to the original. The delayed arrival of Coltrane’s first-movement ostinato introduced Brecker, who played with the rhythm section. “Resolution” was almost shocking, with baritone saxophone fronting stark voicings topped with pitched brasses, the eight-bar figure played in unison with as many different endings as Coltrane indicated and possibly more. The long Brecker cadenza replaced penitential passion with razzle-dazzle showmanship, complete with double-note ripples that reminded me of the old Varitone electric sax, except Brecker apparently gets all his effects without help. Considered religiously, if we must, the approach was less Coltrane than Ellington, who put virtuoso display, including an elaborate drum solo, at the center of “In the Beginning God.” Brecker had the audience on its feet cheering as the ensemble suddenly went into “Miles’ Mode,” featuring short solos by CHJB saxophonists (none of whom invoked the once ubiquitous Coltrane style) and another powerhouse display from Brecker. Indeed, the concert resembled a religious service in the number of times the congregation took to its feet. Still, it was not a good idea for Faddis to encourage the audience to sing “A Love Supreme” with the band, which I swear he did.

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The boomers got to worship at greater length a few nights later, as Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette filled Carnegie—something I suspect no other piano trio could pull off. I had not seen Jarrett, never a favorite of mine, in more than 20 years, since the days of the grumpy hour-long meditations replete with blues clichés that you found either transporting or numbing. But last year’s Whisper Not made me regret my assumptions and dig through many other albums of standards he recorded in the ’90s; I can still live without the earlier records, including the quartet with Dewey Redman, but I will never again underestimate a musician who can make me listen to “Love Is a Sentimental Thing.” So I awaited this performance eagerly and, though there were none of the triple somersaults heard on, for example “Groovin’ High,” I was not disappointed. The trio is spectacular. Records, however, have an advantage: You don’t have to watch him levitate from the bench like beer foam, gyrating his hips and swiveling toward the audience with a grimace indistinguishable from a grin or vice versa. Live and on records, you have to put up with vocal accompaniment—a keening eeeeehhhhhh that is no more pleasing than Glenn Gould’s and a constant regimen of Peacock solos that reminded me of Ellington’s comparison of bass solos to TV commercials. Alas, no remote.

But from the opening “Green Dolphin Street” on, the music paid its way. The sound was acceptable, too, thanks in part to DeJohnette’s ingenious restraint. Jarrett may not be the only pianist of his era who can embrace “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” at a relaxed medium tempo, indulging the melody while avoiding cocktailisms or Bill Evans devices, but is anyone else as convincing? The energy, poise, flow of ideas, and determination to mine the changes in a thoroughly modern context suffused that song and others—”What’s New,” “Lover,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Last Night When We Were Young”—with a heady mixture of discipline and originality. He played “Yesterdays” slowly and then jauntily, dramatizing the piece twice over, and closing with a quietly elegant finish. On “Honeysuckle Rose,” arranged to begin with quasi-stride (as on the Whisper Not version of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams”), DeJohnette used brushes and took off on a rocking marchlike solo perfectly appropriate for the piece. Only an untitled free improvisation got away from them. A medium blues caused the Brubeckian audience to explode with naked adoration, acceding to the ritualized routine of encores for which time was permitted by knocking off the second set after half an hour. As the audience cheered for more, members of the trio hugged each other, which was sort of cute. Members of Chick Corea’s and Wayne Shorter’s bands did the same; it’s a boomer thing. Corea’s New Trio, as he calls it, refers to the fact that although he has been working with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard for four years, he only conjoined them as a trio eight months ago. The acoustics at Avery Fisher promised to serve the band pretty well, but Cohen had a faulty pickup that, incredibly, the musicians could not hear. Even after the audience protested the distortion—every bass note was accompanied by a loud blat—they expressed surprise. Corea got off a good line, though: “You want to listen with headphones?” After a couple of numbers, the bass mic was turned off, an improvement if you preferred piano-drums duets. Not until the last piece did someone arrive onstage with a microphone. Maybe he had to go to Carnegie to borrow it.

The set had moments, but no passion. You never wonder why Jarrett is playing a particular song—the performance tells you. But Corea turned “I Hear a Rhapsody” into an exercise: rubato theme, much dialoguing with Cohen, who is all over the bass (an occasional four-beat walk would be a relief), tempo changes—all of it light, bright, and slightly preening. Even at his best, Corea is rarely emotional. The pleasure he affords is basically that of exceptional musicianship. “Life Line,” the final piece, ended with Corea and Cohen picking up cowbells and sticks to join in Ballard’s drum solo, and it was fun, truly, more so than the sing-along on “Spain,” with Corea playing phrases on piano and the audience la-di-dahing responses. Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho!

There is no more beautiful nor pined-for sight in jazz than Wayne Shorter holding a tenor saxophone, especially if he means to play it. Following Corea and receiving a standing ovation just for showing up, he did. Surrounded by the uncannily supportive piano, bass, and drums of Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, and Brian Blade, he created a spellbinding hour, brimming with feeling and pleasurable apprehension. Although the rhythm players never sounded remotely like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, they re-created the kind of suspense that made the second Miles Davis Quintet a revelation—not merely backing the soloist, but collaborating with him on each measure. The result was a true quartet music, driven by spontaneity, impulse, and a shared commitment to the whole. Shorter achieved what Joshua Redman could only attempt, a genuinely organic quartet music.

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They opened with his adaptation of a Sibelius theme, “Valse Triste,” and although his tenor lacked the power of his epochal ’60s work, it found its way with the wasteless grace that is the hallmark of his mature style. After the debacle at Lincoln Center a few years ago and the sometimes narcoleptic duets with Hancock, his recommitment to the tenor and acoustic jazz would be reason enough to pat him on the back, but excuses were not necessary. The key responsibility of a musician is to keep it interesting, and Shorter knows how. His shy, hesitant, gingerly designed phrases, occasionally interrupted by a roar or a siren arpeggio banking into the clouds, were etched with sure narrative logic. The piece itself accelerated and decelerated, with Perez following his lead, sidling into a solo with equal deliberation, and then relaying the spotlight to bass and drums. Shorter once remarked that composing is the same as improvising, only slower. “Valse Triste,” melding the two, ran about 15 minutes without a false step. Even the hall’s sound was bright and clear.

Although Shorter’s compositional style is easily recognized, his titles, like Monk’s, tend to blur. Interestingly, the one piece everyone recognized was his most recent, “Aung San Suu Kyi,” introduced on the Hancock duets CD, and the only piece he played on soprano—the audience erupted when Perez played the introductory chords. Shorter performed it with more vitality and rhythmic definition than on the record, expanding on the theme with stop-and-go concentration. Like Bill Evans, he managed on this piece and the others to relay the lead to Perez so deftly that he denied himself applause. Thirty-five years ago, his solos seemed like a respite after Davis’s soul-baring candor. Now he is the soul barer, excavating the material with repeated notes and sudden flurries, limpidly falling into the reprise. He has recast “Masquelero,” sustaining the third note of the opening phrase, but this piece seemed stillborn, taking its time being born in a de facto dialogue between Shorter and Blade, and never quite delivering on the promise. Even here, however, the cohesion of the quartet sustained interest, intuiting directions. It was like walking through a dark room, feeling your way to the light, then slipping into the dark for good.

Blade kept time with hand patterns on “Atlantis,” which began with arco bass and found Perez referencing “Aung San” in his comping. Played at a yawningly slow tempo, it did not induce yawns because after wondering where it was going, you realized it was already there; like “Nefertiti,” it was a vehicle for the rhythm players. Shorter was standing out front, but in repeating the theme, he was really the background, until the last note when the quartet resolved on a lovely consonance. After the ritual hugs and standing cheers, he reached back to the Blue Note womb—from which so many jazz boomers were yanked into life—for “Juju.” As Perez pummeled the keys with crossed hands and Blade, who just may be at the forefront of Gen X drummers, set off flairs and bombs, Shorter played his busiest solo of the evening, only without dynamics—reclusive, enigmatic, alluring. Imagine the old “Juju” phrased like the old “Infant Eyes,” and you get an idea not only of this number but of the entire set.

Last year, I demurred on Diana Krall because I was on the fence; I’ve now got my feet on the ground, but am demurring again until her new CD is released. The concert was retro and lush, with orchestrations for strings by Johnny Mandel and Claus Ogerman, and she was often compelling, not least in her piano solos. Gladys Knight arrived half an hour late, but once she got going all was forgiven; excepting an unnecessary guest saxophonist, her 90-minute set, including a vaudeville routine with her sole remaining Pip, was show business heaven. Yes, she could probably sing jazz, but her old material is so good she doesn’t need to.

One of the festival’s best new ideas was to run parallel evenings at Birdland, enabling players who can’t fill the major halls to sell out a club that enshrines bebop and its derivations. A Phil Woods quintet plus guest Johnny Griffin and a Dewey Redman quartet plus guest Sonny Fortune delivered the goods and more. Woods revived a couple of pieces you don’t often hear anymore (“Bohemia After Dark,” “Little Niles”), eliciting from pianist Bill Charlap the kind of inventive sparkle absent on his own recent CD. After Fortune deconstructed “What’s New?” Redman went from an Ornette stop-and-go piece—inadvertently demonstrating how close the Coleman and Adderley legacies really are, at least from this vantage—to a backbeat rocker worthy of your neighborhood bar, during which he wandered around tables getting everyone to clap. It was that kind of night, that kind of festival. A boomer thing.

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Between Intermissions

Over the past two decades, Michael Dorf’s Knitting Factory has
justly emerged as one of New York’s cultural landmarks. Its deceptively compact Leonard Street building accommodates the Main Space and three smaller stages, plus decently stocked bars at every turn— you might find youself descending the steps from a harmolodic klezmer hip-hop string quartet to a more conventional koto-bass-and-drums Thelonious Monk repertory ensemble while passing though a penumbra of old Nashville recordings. The Knit is a magnet for alternative musics— musics you don’t hear in jazz and rock venues or on radio. It has spawned important musicians and bands as well as like-minded venues and record labels. Anyone who cares about music should be glad it exists. But it’s no place for a festival.

For several summers, Dorf’s Knitmedia mounted the What Is Jazz? festival, which in contrast to the increasingly safe and bloated JVC doings provided the pointed irreverence of what in olden Newport days was known as a rump
festival— a benign quasiguerrilla response. At some point, however, Knitmedia apparently learned what jazz was: a place where big sponsors reside. The Texaco Jazz Festival ensued, supplanted now by the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival. The programming has not dramatically changed, having broadened to encompass mainstream
performers— significant, marketable, or both— at other halls without effacing the Knit’s usual menu. But so eagerly did Bell pursue bigness that it drafted several ongoing jazz series and clubs by stamping them with its logo, a familiar JVC ploy. Bloatwise, Bell made JVC look positively buff.

So why the steady cadence of grumbling? Can’t blame the music, because you could hear two or three good sets a night with enough stamina and hindsight. In lieu of an obvious culprit, Bell offered a metaphor as blatant as the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg. At the outset of the Main Space events, an employee announced the schedule and then dramatically signaled for someone to play a tape of a drumroll and a greeting from Darth Vader. This aged quickly. Before long, James Earl Jones’s ominous tones suggested a successful invasion of corporate inefficiency. The wait times sapped everyone’s resolve. Most of the critics and civilians I spoke with assumed that the three bands scheduled at 8 were de facto concerts, say 40 minutes per band with intermissions. Instead, as perusers of the official program but not the ads might have gathered, each played an hour followed by an hour break. It shouldn’t have been hard to kill all those hours, except that when the alternatives weren’t dire (a Duane
Eddy­type combo) they were seldom in synch, and you had to ask yourself: Do I really want to risk my turf? The comments heard most often— other than Darth’s— were “Please get in line” from employees and “Will you save my seat?” from customers. Yes, I had a book— but not, unfortunately, a flashlight.

There’s the same up-and-down criss-crossing of events at Holland’s Northsea Jazz Festival, except that listeners roam a hugely capacious space and are never without great jazz. If those of us who treasure the Knit’s eclectic unpredictability were relieved that Bell didn’t leach it out, we had to extend sympathy to those were drawn by the word jazz in all its parochial glory only to be confronted with prolonged sound dabs and electroshock tenor. One first-timer dreamily told me of the years when she hung at the Five Spot and the Vanguard and how excited she was returning to the fold with Bell Jazz. She lasted for 20 minutes of Henry Threadgill, which is her problem; still, her only option was a cello trio called Strit. A visiting couple, no less shiny-eyed, balked at Geri Allen’s quintet, the week’s signal revelation for me, yet I can understand why they might have felt more comfortable with an Eric Reed or a Benny Green. Searching the building for something more to their taste, they could choose between Ray Corsair (the Duane Eddy guy) and a Japanese percussion group called Ne-Ne (which wasn’t bad). Both T.S. Monk and Tom Harrell’s Jazz Pioneers, which might have done the trick for
anyone, were slotted for midnight.

The pall was not eased by the presence of video cameras, a reliable way to make an audience feel like unpaid extras. (The couple and I were nearly crowned by debris that fell through the fingers of a guy on a ladder who kept mumbling, “Sorry,” as metallic objects continued to rain.) Nor was it alleviated by innovative or at least festive programming surprises— more of those, albeit of a repertory nature, were scheduled for JVC. Not that Bell ignored repertory. Two noteworthy events were the overpublicized reunion of the New York Art Quartet, a 1964 band that managed to ring a note of nostalgia even though few earthlings ever heard it, and Misako Kano’s unpublicized undertaking of A Love Supreme, John Coltrane’s liturgical suite, also from 1964. Now which is going to be more stimulating: a mouth-watering reassemblage of actual innovators or a Japanese-led rehash of an old record? Right, the rehash.

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The NYAQ existed barely a year and made two recordings, only one of which was released in this country, as the third catalog item from ESP-Disc, thought to have sold 11 copies, exclusively to teenagers who grew up to be jazz critics or the guitarist with Sonic Youth. The record was a wonder and remains so, for the insurgent undercurrent of drummer Milford Graves and the interplay between trombonist Roswell Rudd and saxophonist John Tchicai, and between them and the rhythm. Near the close of Rudd’s “Sweet,” LeRoi Jones intones “Black Dada Nihilismus,” from The Dead Lecturer, a pliant reading of a violent poem. Shortly after, bassist Lewis Worrell moved south, Tchicai returned to Denmark, and Graves and Rudd kept frustratingly low profiles. With the encouragement of the admirable Verna Gillis and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, they reassembled (Reggie Workman replaced Worrell), but this time the poet assumed the role of star soloist. Instead of reading a masterly early work (“A Poem for Willie Best” would have been nice) or even a new one, Amiri Baraka cupped his hands over the mike and shouted ’60s names and phrases, racist slurs (the N-word interminably), and racial riddles. He left off periodically, sometimes returning at the very moment Rudd and Tchicai got into something.

The performance made you wonder how much wind Rudd could muster, as he stood as far from the mike as Baraka hugged his, and made you yearn for a clearer display of Tchicai and Graves, in a room conducive to music. What Bell was thinking of when it leased for nightly concerts the Seaport Atrium, a third-story food court with an elevated roof that sucks up all the high frequencies, leaving a bass din for the crowded standees, I can’t imagine. I’d go hear the NYAQ again if they put the poet to bed early, but only a reunion of Lester Young and Billie Holiday would bring me back to the Seaport Atrium.

After battling off a brief irony attack, I was drawn into A Love Supreme as played by pianist Masako Kano, tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman, bassist Yosuke Inouem, and drummer Jeff Williams. Liebman broached the opening cadenza in tones so like the supreme lover that I first feared a reverent clone, but soon Liebman was piling in with such authenticity and commitment there was no doubting the abiding power of the work. The four movements were played without breaks and with two secularizing revisions: the vocal chant was dropped and Kano and Liebman each played a fourth-
movement meditation without alluding to Coltrane’s aching canticle. Inouem recalled the staunch double stops of Jimmy Garrison and Williams offered a bright take on Elvin Jones. But canny Kano made no attempt whatsoever to draw on McCoy Tyner, rejecting hammered fourths and two-fisted density in favor of pointillistic riffs and crystal permutations of the four-note title vamp. She brought an agreeable lightness to bear on the work’s ecclesiastical severity, balanced by Liebman’s go-for-broke attack. On “My Favorite Things,” Liebman sounded unceremoniously personal on
soprano— sherbet after the main course.

Of the new bands, Allen’s quintet showed the most promise and I hope it wasn’t a one-shot. Seated on two phone books or standing to manipulate a synth atop the upright, she played with witty brio, picking her spots and taking aim with keyboard figures that belong to her and nobody else, which is to say her influences are so handsomely assimilated that she no longer even nods in their direction. And though I usually blanch at Casio mimickry, she used the synth to succinctly musical ends— staccato electric chords, organ drones, a reedy choirlike scrim. Her responsive rhythm section consists of the Johnson brothers— bassist Mark, who plucks the strings for a resonance that echoes William Parker, and drummer Billy, who favors a barrage of hi-hat and ride cymbals. More surprising was the unlikely front line, pairing Oliver Lake and Wallace Roney. Lake’s alto seemed blustery and unsure at first, but as the set progressed his solos developed into compressed marvels, dynamic and varied, his acidic tone twisting riffs and exclamations with collateral logic, especially on his brightly swinging original, “Brass and Oak.” He never wore out his welcome, which cannot be said for Roney, whose pattern was to begin by exercising his comely sound and open lyricism and then devolve into a bout of zealous tremolos.

The model coherence of Allen’s solos was underscored a few nights later in duets with Charlie Haden, a longtime collaborator and fellow graduate of Ornetteland, with whom she breathed as one on a blues riff that unleased swirling arpeggios, an elaborately epic “Lonely Woman,” and a deliberated “Segment.” Their limpid and emotional clarity and knowing swing made up for a lot, including the opening sound stabiles of Mark Dresser’s trio with prepared piano, but not for the 90-minute intermission that followed. This night, you could get a taste downstairs of Chico Hamilton and Euphoria or walk east to Angel Orensanz for the 10 p.m. set by Masada. But that would be a $50 evening. If Bell wants to be JVC as much as Dorf wants to be George Wein, it’s going to have to go after JVC’s venues.

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Requiem for a Flag-Waver

As I was saying. Why complain if a jazz festival is no more than a congested confluence of concerts? JVC followed on the heels of Texaco (discussion of jazz is fated forevermore to sound like Madison Avenue adspeak) and lay over the city like a shroud. People were still asking me when it would open as it was closing. Critics made the rounds glassy-eyed and somnambulant, shoulders set in permanent shrugs, as if to say don’t ask before anyone could. Buzz? There was no buzz–no can’t-wait-to-hear-that or what-a-cool-idea-for-a-concert or wasn’t-that- amazing. As always, there were moments: I won’t soon forget Al Grey’s ”Black and Blue” or Clark Terry reviving his brass duets, or especially Joao Gilberto, who isn’t a jazz musician but made almost everyone else look like an amateur or…ran out of things I won’t soon forget. Will consult notes.

The festival began with six concerts at the Kaye Playhouse, a pleasingly petite theater that fosters specialty ideas that can barely make a dent in Carnegie, Avery Fisher, or Symphony Space–unlike the Brazilians and Cubans, who accounted for at least five major events in the halls that used to present Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, and Stan Getz, all now passed. Last year’s Kaye series was an imaginative success, mixing mainstream and jazz rep, so they did it again, only without the imagination. The almost exclusive focus on prewar (as in WW II) styles had, inevitably, a valedictory effect, combining memory and desire with the morbid fear that some venerated players might not be around much longer, which is one reason I felt obliged to be there. Still, when a tribute to Fats Waller got underway with Al Grey in a wheelchair and Clark Terry on the arm of an aide, the desire to pay homage was undercut by a dismay at seeing great men working at a fraction of their capacities. And yet whatever was ailing them did not affect their lungs, embouchure, or brains; along with 82-year-old guitarist Al Casey, who recorded with Waller, and 75-year-old pianist Ralph Sutton, who imbibed those records until they were part of his motor memory, they salvaged an inaugural concert that, conceptually, was more requiem than flag-waver.

For the first set, the accent was on Waller the songwriter and singer. That became evident as soon as impresario George Wein sat himself at the piano and warned that he would do the singing. Wein is an amiable Teddy Wilson–inspired pianist who has led some fine all-star ensembles without doing damage, but if he were forced to eat with his left hand he’d soon shrink to the size of Michael Dorf. Waller without a left hand isn’t Waller, no matter how many choruses you lay down of ”Honeysuckle Rose” or how desperately Clark Terry mugs ”Your Feet’s Too Big.” And ”Black and Blue” is no song for a vocal dilettante, especially following an Al Grey solo that left nothing to add. His tone and pitch steady as you go, Grey used the slide and mute to inflect every note with the befitting mwahhh or grrrr. On ”Crazy ‘Bout My Baby,” Terry, his sound improbably restored and buffed, did a routine he made famous in the ’60s, trading phrases and then pitches between flugelhorn and muted trumpet, and it was as funny and handsomely executed as ever. The unassuming Al Casey played sliding chords and swinging fillips with a quietly rocking outlook that made you wonder if he knows it isn’t 1939 anymore.

The cast changed for the second half (Kenny Davern, Warren Vache, Howard Alden), but belonged to Ralph Sutton, if not the finest living stride pianist then certainly the most individual. Most of the form’s practitioners play with braggadocio, chatting away or puffing on a cigar as though their hands were independent contractors–wind them up and off they go. Sutton’s signature is an almost conservatory seriousness as he plots every lateral sweep of the left hand and dancing conceit of the right with meticulous care, his sound luminously solid, his rhythm unshakable. Much of his appeal lies in his infallibility; untouched by modernity, his music is ripe with the faded elegance and flourishes of another world, yet he’s a bear for abstracting melody and hallelujah finishes. He played Willie the Lion Smith’s ”Echoes of Spring” with driving lyricism. On Waller’s ”Viper’s Drag,” he stressed the contrast between the ominous prowl of the opening and the elated stride that follows, much as he emphasized the contrast between boogie tension and melodic release in Waller’s ”Alligator Crawl.”

For the rest of the Kaye series, bright moments were rarer still. Predictability ruled. Herb Ellis deserves his tribute, but did it have to be played–as Barney Kessel’s was last year–exclusively by guitarists, with bass and drums for ballast? At least open the gates to some fresh faces, maybe even a couple of mavericks–Ulmer, Ribot, Morris, Malone, Whitfield….Not that it isn’t a pleasure to hear Mundell Lowe’s moonlit melodies or Ellis’s twangy blues. But after a while you feel like you’re at temple, expected to don a tallislike guitar strap before entering. The concert that thriftily combined homages to Jimmy McPartland and the team of Mildred Bailey and Red Norvo was too thrifty by half. Warren Vache played the trumpet part in a pro forma set of Chicago-style Dixieland with a few standouts: Marian McPartland’s delicate ”Singin’ the Blues,” handsomely harmonized and paced with a chiming finish; trombonist Bobby Pratt making hay on ”Louisiana”; Howard Alden’s ”Davenport Blues,” cleverly arranged for solo guitar with a bass line in the manner of George Van Eps and tricky chords. Alden, who played well all week, resisting the temptation to answer showy technique with showy technique, inadvertently triggered the best line at the Harold Arlen tribute, at the outset of a duet on ”If I Only Had a Brain,” with Ken Peplowski, who turned to the audience as Alden wrapped himself up in a dense cadenza and said, ”If I only had a brain I’d know what he was playing.” Carol Sloane was in good voice. People who can play well played well.

Twenty years ago, George Wein would not have reduced Mildred and Red to one set featuring singer and pianist Daryl Sherman. He would have brought in an orchestra to play the Eddie Sauter arrangements, the best vibes players in the world, and the kind of musicians who could make ”Dance of the Octopus” shimmer all over again, so that you’d leave the hall knowing why a salute was in order. That said, Sherman has locked into something in exploring her affinity for Mildred, whose supple phrasing, lilting tones, and knowing time she captures with feeling and charm. Unfortunately, she was backed by an ensemble that would have been more appropriate for Lee Wiley, who married into Chicago Dixieland rather than modernistic swing; it all but drowned her out on ”Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry,” causing her to overemphasize her vibrato, lose her footing, and glance at her watch. She recovered nicely on ”Lover Come Back to Me,” until the band charged her on the outchorus, and ”There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” expertly supported by Randy Sandke.

The tribute to Dick Gibson, who died earlier that week, was another missed opportunity. No one remarked onstage who Gibson was or why he was worth saluting; at the very least, one expected a few dozen anecdotes–Gibson was the anecdotal man, as teller and subject. Wein’s remark that he was important for starting a party circuit that provided musicians with work was spectacularly short of the mark. Putting aside the careers revived or spurred and the bands created during the 30 annual Colorado jazz parties lavishly thrown by Gibson and his wife Maddie (who was in attendance), they had an incalculable influence on the international revival of the mainstream jazz Wein fuels his festival with. And if Gibson proved less than brilliant in watching out for his own finances, he never stinted on jazz–I can’t imagine Wein (or anyone else) flying Trummy Young from Hawaii for annual duets with Vic Dickenson, matching Joe Venuti with Zoot Sims, delivering Carl Fontana from pit band hell or John Collins from studio obscurity, or arraying the stage with 11 trombonists (okay, that last one is a little iffy). ”The First Ever New York Jazz Party,” as it was billed, offered several players who I doubt would have made the Gibson cut, and failed entirely to capture the mix-and-match madness he mischievously forced on beboppers and Dixielanders alike. A few musicians actually seized the day and fanned mainstream embers: Urbie Green and Slide Hampton on ”Blue Monk”; Bucky Pizzarelli and Howard Alden on ”Three Little Words”; Kenny Davern on ”Moonglow”; Joe Wilder on ”Squeeze Me”; Jerry Jerome with that old-time timbre on ”Pennies From Heaven.” But the evening never caught fire.

You wouldn’t exactly say that Joao Gilberto caught fire either. As Jon Pareles wrote in the Times, he ”may well be the coolest man alive.” Without fanfare (no blathering DJs for him), he walked out onstage with his guitar, acknowledging the standing ovation with a nearly imperceptible bow, and then played 90 minutes of bossa nova, never availing himself of the bottled water by his chair on an otherwise bare stage, and never responding to the crowd, which after the first hour or so was beginning to levitate. Pareles reported, ”and once, just once, he smiled.” I must have been scribbling–missed it completely. On the very last number, he introduced his daughter, singer Bebel Gilberto, who, lifting her microphone, said, ”Good evening.” A ripple of laughter rolled over the audience; except for Joao’s mumbled introduction, they were the first (and last) words spoken all night.

At 67, Gilberto is, if possible, even more economical than when he made those groundbreaking albums with Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto. He’s so spare that every gesture is magnified. Only late in the evening did he play an instrumental chorus, otherwise declining even pickups and breaks. Each piece was an intimate communion of voice and guitar, understated yet glistening, his rhythms enameled in their certainty, his embellishments supple but contained. He expended no apparent energy, though the music requires great energy–the lyrics are wordier than in American songs and the melodies subtly insular, focused almost entirely in the midrange with higher and lower notes that Gilberto finessed as casually as he appeared to do everything else. At the 1964 Carnegie Hall concert with Getz (Getz/Gilberto #2), the saxophonist rather haplessly tried to explain the secret of the man he kept referring to as ”the great artist,” first suggesting that he refrains from injecting his personality into the songs, then instantly backtracking at the absurdity. Getz was right: he’s there and not there, singing as though he didn’t need to breathe, the voice a warm, barely vibrating string-instrument drone. He sang both volumes of the Getz collaboration, ”S’Wonderful” (his only number in English), and others, and when you filed out of Carnegie, you knew you had seen something.

You knew also that Carnegie Hall will pick up every whisper of musicians who treat it right. The place was back to normal for the Roy Haynes and Chick Corea concert. Haynes’s new trio with Danilo Perez played a powerhouse set and should be recorded, beginning with Monk’s ”Bright Mississippi” and continuing with such standards as ”I Hear a Rhapsody” and ”It’s Easy To Remember,” a reminder of the value to be found in the harmonic steeplechases of good songs. The great drummer, in a chartreuse suit and exhibiting his usual cockiness, exerted a geometrical control over the arrangements, but the trio waxed and waned as a unit and left me wanting more. Whereas I was sated by Chick Corea’s Origin, which is peppery and inventive and mines several moods, from Spanish-tinged lyricism (”Hand Me Down”) to dauntless sentimentality (”Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”). The problem is that, as a soloist, Corea greatly outdistances his three wind players (altoist Steve Wilson is most distinctive), so that their lengthy perorations are often dead air. Other new bands were also shaky: violinist Regina Carter, turning away from funk pablum, exhibited energy, humor, and a vocalized timbre, but her show-off pianist needs to be spanked into line–his cadenza on ”Don’t Explain” was opaque and incoherent–and Rodney Jones is too good a guitarist to be recycling Wes Montgomery charts. Kenny Garrett, who shared the show with her at Symphony Space, was similarly bent on recycling John Coltrane, less so in a version of ”Giant Steps” than in a couple of originals; nor did his amiable chanting (”as we travel through space”), gospel and blues licks, and handclapping cadenza add up to much.

On the other hand, Celia Cruz–in great form, her vibrato rolling rs like a drill–and Tito Puente couldn’t be anyone but themselves if they tried. Arturo Sandoval, opening for them, did an exciting if overlong meditation on Dizzy Gillespie, with triple-tongue scat singing, but couldn’t resist synthesized strings on numbers only a record label could love. The Cubans, as usual, played to a packed, exuberant house at Carnegie Hall, suggesting a problem for JVC, or BET, which bought Festival Productions. These days, not many gringos do nearly as well, so that Latin musicians now have taken over Mel Torme’s old job, albeit for a different audience–guaranteeing a moneymaker. The mainstream is in twilight. Jazz missed a beat in the 1965–75 period; struggling against the rock hegemony with the avant-garde or fusion, it produced few mainstream stars. The only solution is creative producing, a Wein strong suit when the festival represented something of an annual world series of the art. Festivals still thrive in Europe, and not avant-garde festivals, either. Putting aside Sonny Rollins, who won’t participate, you have to wonder where were Tommy Flanagan, Geri Allen, the Heath Brothers, David Murray, and two dozen others. In New York, however, JVC is looking yellow around the gills. Another year like this one, and it will be a miracle if anyone takes note.