The First Annual Soka
BluePort Jazz Festival
All images taken by Greg Weaver using handheld Nikon gear with no tripods.
Every once in a while, a confluence of events occur that somehow permit you to be in the right place, at the right time. When such serendipitous events take place, you're forced to realize just how lucky you really are! Such a series of events unfolded at the end of October that allowed me to attend, photograph, and report on the first Soka/Blueport Jazz Festival. Though I have visited the captivating Soka University campus on a number of previous occasions, some for the expressed purpose of covering a live jazz event, there is no way I could have been prepared for either the sonic splendor or the sheer musical spectacle that was about to unfold before me in this germinal Music Festival.
I must apologize for the tardiness of this report; to Soka University in general and David Palmer specifically, to Jim Merod of BluePort, to all the remarkable musicians, and to technicians and other talented people whose efforts were instrumental to the successful realization of this event. Rather than make excuses, I'll just make it known that a number of family health related issues, a broad variety of them actually, gave me things to focus on other than my writing.
This remarkable festival was the result of the joint efforts of the Soka University of America and BluePort Jazz. If you aren't aware, BluePort is Jim Merod, PhD and PFO's own Senior Editor, Professor of American Literature, and guerilla recording engineer extraordinaire! While Jim and Soka have hosted dozens of jazz performances over the past seven-plus years, this was the first event of this magnitude; eight acts of amazing talent and diversity scheduled over three days. This was clearly to be no simple undertaking.
For a number of years now, Jim's insider knowledge of the world of jazz and its musicians, paired with Soka's desire to present the best of all things, music in general and jazz in particular, to their students and their community, has resulted in more than a few once-in-a-lifetime performances. I was on hand in June 2008 for one amazing performance in their long-running "Jazz Monsters" series, recorded by Jim. That June 6th event found pianist Geoffrey Keezer (who opened this festival), bassist Christian McBride, and percussion master Terreon Gully playing together in the intimate space of Soka University's Founders Hall.
I'm here to tell you that things have changed at Soka. After considerable thought, the University decided to move forward on the realization of their planned Soka Performing Arts Center well ahead of schedule. Though it had been on the University's development plan drawing board, it was not scheduled to be undertaken for nearly another decade. For a number of valid reasons, the plan was accelerated, funds were raised, ground was broken, the work progressed, and the hall was certified for occupancy by December 2010. Designed by ZGF Architects (Zimmer Gunsul Frasca), the lead architect was R. Doss Mabe, and the acoustician was the celebrated Yasuhisa Toyota of Japan's leading acoustical consulting firm Nagata Acoustics. Mr. Toyota is a revered acoustician who has been chief acoustician for over 50 projects worldwide. His accomplishments include the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Finland's Helsinki Music Center, the Danish Radio Concert Hall in Copenhagen, the Elbe Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the Bard College Performing Arts Center in New York, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, and the renovation of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall.
This splendid new hall is a true concert hall reimagined as a proscenium theater. It is such a glorious hall that it merits a separate article to communicate fully its fascinating story, so stay tuned for my thoughts on that in the near future. I will be publishing an interview with David Palmer, General Manager of the Soka Performing Arts Center, along with a host of photos, giving you an inside look at this amazing architectural edifice which is truly an amazing sounding hall!
Held in this newly finished concert hall on Soka's picturesque and inspiring campus in Aliso Viejo, California, the BluePort Jazz Festival was only the fifth formal event held since the opening of the facility. This first of a planned annual series comprised eight sets, in four shows, over three days. They were performed by some of the most respected and revered names in jazz.
Set ONE – Friday night 7:30– The Geoffrey Keezer/Peter Sprague Band
The Geoffrey Keezer-Peter Sprague Band
The pairing of Geoffrey Keezer's piano with Peter Sprague's guitar never fails to please anyone. It was a great choice to kick off the weekend. These two artists had combined their considerable solo abilities to form this band earlier in 2011. Their first release, Mill Creek Road, appeared on Sprague's own SBE Records. Joining them on that recording, as well as this set, was the incomparable Duncan Moore on drums. Add bassist Darek Oles and you have a tight, rhythmic ensemble that just lit up on stage to give the audience a strong dose of a world-class jazz line-up that made this a spectacular weekend.
Wisconsin born pianist Geoffery Keezer has been a studying and playing music since the age of three. He is a Grammy-nominated pianist and composer with more than a dozen solo releases and a jam-packed touring schedule. Peter Sprague, born in Cleveland, Ohio, has taught music and is a distinguished composer as well as artist. His career has been involved with GRP Records on several projects. He currently tours with jazz diva Diane Reeves.
Duncan Moore grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and started drumming at the tender age of eight. As a San Diego-based drummer and percussionist, Duncan is conversant in a wide variety of styles. He works regularly in Southern California recording studios, performs with jazz, Latin, rock, and R&B bands, and maintains a home recording studio where he provides drum and percussion tracks for jingles, soundtracks, demos, and other artist's projects.
Polish born Darek Oles (who shortened his name from Oleszkiewicz) began his musical journey when he was just five, playing piano, guitar, and electric bass. He was eighteen when he settled on acoustic bass. In 1988, he moved to LA where he has lived and taught ever since.
This opening performance was a strongly lyrical set, with Geoffrey and Peter literally feeding of the other's strengths, driving each other to astonishing musical places. The emotional and musical rapport between them was apparent immediately as they wove their on-stage musical magic, leaving no doubt that they were meant to work with each other. The rhythmic core of the gig was shaped by Duncan with Darek's timekeeping propulsion riveting as well as lifting the lyric exchange between piano and guitar. This capable quartet mixed up their play list, offering music from their Mill Creek Road release, as well as a number of other classics. This group left it ALL on the stage, giving this appreciative audience one of the most emotionally engaging performances I've seen between to friends playing "for" and "with" each other.
Set TWO – Friday night 9:00 – Trio da Paz
Trio da Paz
Formed in 1986, this gifted and powerful combo consists of Romero Lubambo on guitar, Nilson Matta on bass and Duduka da Fonseca on drums and percussion.
Duduka da Fonseca
Drummer and percussionist Duduka Da Fonseca was born in Rio de Janeiro and has been playing drums since he was 12. At 15, he was performing with some of the most experienced musicians in Brazil. He moved to New York in 1975, where his career flourished playing with such ensembles as the Brazilian Express, the New York Samba Band, and the Brazilian All Stars. Along the way, he was a faculty member at the Drummers Collective in New York and has conducted workshops in Japan and Europe and is the author of the instructional book and tape set "Brazilian Rhythms for Drumset." Throughout his career, Da Fonseca has performed and recorded with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Herbie Mann, John Scofield, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Henderson, and many others.
Nilson Matta is a premier Brazilian bassist and composer. He studied bass at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) with Sandrino Santoro, Brazil's premier classical bass player, and at an incredibly young age, was recognized as one of Brazil's most impressive bass players. During his years living in Brazil, he played the bass with luminaries such as João Gilberto, Hermeto Pascoal, Roberto Carlos, Chico Buarque de Holanda, Nana Caymmi, João Bosco, Johnny Alf, Helio Delmiro, Luis Bonfá, and many others. Moving to New York City in 1985, he co-founded the project "The African Brazilian Connection" with legendary pianist Don Pullen and has performed and recorded with renowned artists like Joe Henderson, Yo Yo Ma, Paquito D'Rivera, Slide Hampton, Herbie Mann, Mark Murphy, Oscar Castro Neves, Don Friedman, Paul Winter, Gato Barbieri, and many others.
Rio de Janeiro born Romero Lubambo started learning classic piano at a very early age, but by 13, he started learning the classic guitar, studying at the Villa-Lobos Music School. Like Nilson Matta, he also moved to the US in 1985 and has played and recorded with artists such as Herbie Mann, Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Harry Belafonte, Grover Washington, Astrud Gilberto, Michael Brecker, Kathleen Battle, Ivan Lins, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Paquito D'Rivera, Jr., Luciana Souza, Sergio Assad, Dave Douglas and Odair Assad, Leny Andrade, and Cesar Camargo Mariano.
It simply isn't likely you'll discover a more engaging or accomplished Brazilian Jazz combo, but this festival didn't stop here! For the first of their two scheduled sets, we were treated to the special guest appearance of Maucha Adnet, adding her amazing voice to this superb set!
Maucha Adnet was born in Rio de Janeiro and began singing and recording at fifteen with the vocal group Céu da Boca. For a decade after joining Banda Nova in 1984, she performed, toured, and recorded with the legendary Antônio Carlos Jobim. Their recordings include many favorites and include a Grammy Award in 1995, though that was not Maucha's only Grammy nod. She has also recorded with Dorival Caymmi, Chico Buarque, Dori Caymmi, Caetano Veloso, Toninho Horta, Mario Adnet, Nara Leão, Cesar Camargo Mariano, Charlie Byrd, Gil Goldstein, Emily Remler, Rob Mounsey, Othelo Molineaux, Trio da Paz, Harry Allen, Slide Hampton, and many others.
Romero, Maucha, and Nilson
Residing in New York for many years now, Maucha has been performing regularly with her own band and in shows with Trio da Paz, Claudio Roditi, Herbie Mann, Oscar Castro Neves, Eliane Elias, Mark Johnson, Slide Hampton, Randy Brecker, and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band at various venues, notably: Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Blue Note and Birdland.
Mixing it up with a number of their own works and some well know classics, this act was clearly a crowd pleaser. They did a Nilson Matta original from his most recent release Brazilian Voyage, called "Baden," and dedicated to Baden Powell, one of Brazil's most celebrated guitarists.
Trio da Paz with Maucha Adnet
They closed this first smokin' set with "O Barquinho," or "Little Boat," as it is one of Jim's favorites, and they played it at his none-too-subtle request. Picture Jim going on stage to close the set, reintroducing them all to the enthralled audience and encouraging an encore by shouting, "O Barquinho, O Barquinho, O Barquinho," as he applauded with the audience and left the stage! This was the first time I'd heard Maucha on this song, and I was simply taken away by both the amazingly silky, sexy, sound of her voice and the powerful emotion with which she was able to deliver this standard. Wow!
Set THREE – Saturday afternoon 3:00 PM - The Bert Turetzky-Chuck Perrin Dynamic Duo
Bertram "Bert" Turetzky is currently the senior professor of Music at UCSD, where for three decades he has been giving master classes, seminars, and workshops nationally and internationally. Bert has been a featured contrabass soloist in the music centers of the United States, Europe, Latin America, and Australia, and some say that his unique sonic vocabulary has taken the contrabass from its traditional role to assume the position of a major solo instrument. He is a prolific recording artist, having recorded over 300 compositions written for the instrument, on over a dozen labels.
Chuck Perrin developed an appreciation for music and literature in high school, spending his free time listening to records or reading. He soon started playing guitar and putting his own thoughts into songs, and has been doing so ever since. In 2000, Chuck opened a jazz performance space in downtown San Diego called dizzy's, which is a splendid club—I've been fortunate to attend a number of performances there.
Bert Turetzky with Chuck Perren
This set was decidedly different from anything on Friday's performance and anything to come during this festival. The short set opened with Chuck reading his poetry (Mingus & the Underground) to Bert's interpretive playing. Honestly, I thought it was very retro-cool; it reminded me of a coffee house beat performance from the '60's. It progressed with the duo playing some standard "Dylan-ensue" tunes, and ended too quickly for me, thank you!
Set FOUR – Saturday afternoon 4:00 PM - Tierney Sutton with Mike Garson, with special guest, Kornél Fekete-Kovacs – Trumpet
Mike Garson and Tierney Sutton
Brooklyn born in 1945, Mike Garson is an American pianist who has contributed so much to such an enormous swath of music since the early 1970s, it is almost hard to fathom. While he may be best known for his work with David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Billy Corgan, Free Flight, and The Smashing Pumpkins, his contributions to the Jazz and Classical worlds are equally impressive. From a piano lesson with Bill Evans to composing thousands of classical works, he is as prodigious as he is versatile.
American jazz singer and three-time Grammy Nominee for "Best Jazz Vocal Album" and a selection by Jazzweek as Vocalist of the Year in 2005, Tierney is Wisconsin born. She became involved in singing jazz while attending Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and after graduating, spent time at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 1994 she moved to Los Angeles and has since become a fixture in the area's jazz scene, teaching voice at USC and often leading her own group. She has an unmistakable voice, and I have been taken with her work since I first heard an unreleased Blueport Jazz recording of her, curiously enough, featuring Mike Garson on the piano, recorded at the Bel Age Hotel in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 1996.
Kornél Fekete-Kovách was born in Kiskunhalas Hungary and is both founder of The Budapest Jazz Orchestra and founder and conductor of the Modern Art Orchestra, Budapest. He plays trumpet, flugelhorn, alto horn, and is an accomplished composer and arranger. I recently heard his 2010 composition, Grandeur, which is one of, if not, the most powerful, engaging, creative, and moving suites of music I have ever heard. In fact, it is so remarkable that I will be sharing my impressions in a separate article; stay tuned. While I was in San Diego for this event, I also got to hear Kornél play at Chuck Perrin's dizzy's downtown, and at Gilbert Castellanos' El Camino, both San Diego Jazz hot spots. You'll also be hearing more about Gil, as he was another featured artist at this event.
Mike, Tierney, and Kornél
This set was, in a word, magic. Inspired by the work of Bill Evens, it was also permeated with several Garson originals, including "For Susan," inspired by his wife, and the "Lullaby for our Daughters." Of the Evan's tunes, one highlight for me was their take of "We Will Meet Again," that Bill wrote for his brother Harry.
What was a true treat and surprise for me was an updating of one of Mike's instrumental pieces, "Even Evans." The surprise came in the form of lyrics written and performed by Tierney. During their interplay before starting the piece, they playfully discussed giving this version—the one Tierney's lyrics—a new name, "Compatico."
Bows at the end of the set
They closed the set with Kornél joining them on another Evan's standard, "Blue in Green." It was enchanting, and from the degree of the audience's response when they finished, they agreed. Kornél's horn seemed a perfect addition here, sounding much like a second voice to Tierney. After the set, Kornél confided to Jim and me that having played on stage with both Mike and Tierney had been the highlight of his Jazz performing career.
Set FIVE – Saturday evening 7:30 PM – The Charles McPherson Quintet
The Charles McPherson Quintet
An American jazz alto saxophonist born in Joplin, Missouri, Charles moved to Detroit, Michigan at the age of nine, where he studied with the renowned pianist Barry Harris, and started playing professionally by 19. Moving to New York in the late 1950's, he may be best known for his dozen years with Charles Mingus (1960-1972). He was commissioned by Clint Eastwood to help record the ensemble renditions of Charlie Parker's work, and was the featured alto saxophonist, for the soundtrack for the 1988 film "Bird."
Owner of the El Camino club in San Diego, Gilbert Castellanos is an accomplished trumpeter. Downbeat magazine has proclaimed him a new American master. Gil has established himself as one of the nation's most inventive improvisers in stirring live performances as a member of the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Anthony Wilson Nonet, the Charles McPherson Quintet, the Willie Jones III Quintet, and as leader of his own groups. I had the privilege of stopping in El Camino one night during the week before this event, and got to hear Gil AND Kornél playing off each other on stage.
While I'd not had the pleasure of hearing bassist Jeff Littleton prior to this event, he has worked as a professional musician since he was a teenager, recording with Herbie Hancock, Nancy Wilson, Stanley Turrentine, Dianne Reeves, Pharaoh Sander, Harold Land, Eddie Harris, Willie Bobo, Hank Crawford, Billy Higgins and Bobby Hutchison.
Aside from touring with the Charles McPherson Quartet throughout the US, France, Italy, Greece, and China, pianist Randy Porter has performed with many jazz greats, including Freddy Hubbard, Art Farmer, and Benny Golson and has toured with Diane Schuur and Bobby Caldwell. Aside from touring, he teaches jazz piano at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, as well as offering master classes and adjudicating student combos and bands at high school and college jazz festivals.
A native of Los Angeles, drummer Kevin Kanner has performed on two Grammy nominated Bill Holman records and led perhaps the most well remembered Jazz jam session in recent LA history, called "Groove Pocket," at the historic venue, the Mint. This session, called "Groove Pocket", featured prominent underground hip hop DJ stars as well as a weekly band that over the course of 6 years consisted of, Ambrose Akinmuserie, Tim Green, Gerald Clayton, Harish Ragahavan, Joe Sanders, Larry Fuller, James Westfall, Charles Altura, Hamilton Price, Josh Nelson and Matt Poiltano. Kevin Kanner has performed domestically and international, touring with artists like Bill Henderson, Anat Cohen, Bill Holman, Maureen McGovern, Gilbert Castellanos, Charles MacPherson, and many, many more.
To hear such a talented quintet led by the renowned Charles McPherson must be seen as what it is, a rare and distinct treat. For me, it turned out to be one of the highlights of this over-achieving festival. This was an exciting, pulsating, straight-ahead bebop set, one that not only got me fired up, but spoke to the entire audience as well.
Charles with Gil
Charles was amazing, leading the quintet on two of his own songs. He played "Lonely Little Child" and "Marionette," both written for his young daughter. One of the treats in this set was getting to hear a syncopated version of "Dancing in the Dark." Then they really tore it up on the Charlie Parker standard, "Billie's Bounce." Gil's trumpet work was scorching, and the audience was as appreciative as I was.
I have to admit, I had been prepared for what to expect from Gil on this take of "Billie's Bounce," as it was the second time in the past four day's I'd gotten to hear the tune live. Only a few nights before, both he and Kornél had taken the stage at the El Camino, where they were joined by a third horn player, trading licks back and forth on this jazz classic.
Set SIX – Saturday night 9:00 PM – Trio da Paz – with special guest Anat Cohen
Trio da Paz
This was the same trio, but with a completely different set—well, almost (more on that later). Yet guest artist Anat Cohen added something both rich and magical to it.
While you might classify her as a jazz traditionalist, she pushes harder and further, really straining at the established boundaries, and she just tears it up on stage like no one else I can think of. Commanding and evocative, her soulful version of Jimmy Rowles "The Peacocks" just melted the audience and this music lover. Her subtle work on Duduka's own "Donna Maria," a charming bossa, made it all the more beautiful.
Anat plays so organically; it is as if the Clarinet (not an easy instrument to play, by any means) or Tenor Sax were merely an extension of her body, an innate and spontaneous part of her essence. The music just flows from her like some natural extension of her own voice. Hers is a truly remarkable talent.
While the Trio did an almost entirely different set for this event, there was one notable exception. Because they are such close friends with Jim, and because they know how much he loves "O Barquinho," they included an amazing and graceful version to close out the Saturday night performance.
Anat Cohen – Clarinet
Though Anat had to leave early (4:00AM) the following morning to do a cover photo-shoot for Downbeat magazine in New York City with both her brothers, she managed to find some time to visit with us, and the rest of the Trio of course, at the hotel later that night. Her older brother Yuval plays saxophone and her younger brother Avishai plays trumpet, and both are working jazz musicians.
Anat Cohen – Tenor Sax
Set SEVEN – Sunday afternoon 3:00 PM – The Ron Escheté Trio
The Ron Escheté Trio
Bandleader Ron Escheté was born in Houma, Louisiana, and began playing guitar at the age of 14. Joining a quartet and working clubs in Louisiana before he had even graduated from high school, he went on to attend Loyola University where he studied classical guitar with Paul Guma. Before he had completed college, Ron was touring with Buddy Greco, where he quickly established his reputation as a premier accompanist.
Ron Escheté - playing a seven-string guitar
Considered a master of the seven-string guitar (that's right, I said seven!), it was a San Diego gig in 1988 that Ron points to as a critical turning point in his career. There he began to shed his reputation as the quintessential sideman and made the move to center stage and began to explore original material. Over the decades, he has worked with many of the greatest artists in jazz including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, and many more.
Todd Johnson - on a six string bass
Todd Johnson is recognized as a pioneer of the six-string electric bass. Yes, I said six strings—do you sense a pattern here? With his custom six-string bass, Todd has developed an innovative technique playing chord changes and bass lines simultaneously, combined with his ability to play "chord melody," this gives him a uniquely rich and full sound. Todd has been an integral member of this critically acclaimed jazz trio since 1991. Johnson has also performed and/or recorded with other such artists as Mike Stern, Poncho Sanchez, Frank Potenza, Dave Weckl, Scott Henderson, Plas Johnson, Lew Tabackin, Jack Sheldon, Rufus Reid, Mundell Lowe, Michael Manring, Paul Humphrey, and Frank Gambale.
Completing this unique trio was drummer Ramon Banda. Ramon (and his bassist brother Tony) were born and raised in Norwalk, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Ramon began his amazing musical journey before the age of 6. Under the direction of his uncle, Mike Chavarria, by age 7, Ramon was performing all over southern California. Both Banda's, aside from their well-known efforts with the Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Group, have participated in countless world tours, music festivals and recording sessions with a long list of world renown artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Herman, Chick Correa, Dianne Reeves, Stanley Turrentine, Stanley Clark, Joe Strummer, Giovanni Hidalgo, and Arturo Sandoval to hit a few highlights.
Jim had told me I was going to dig this set, but he hadn't gone into why with any detail. Man was he right! What I found unique about the sound of this trio was the musical depth achieved and the complexity and engaging texture created by the coupling of Ron Escheté's seven strings blended with Todd Johnson's six strings.
More Ron Escheté
Ron is a masterful musical chameleon, switching melodic lines and themes with blinding, almost unnoticed efficiency, and with a simplistic but uncanny beauty. Todd has developed an inventive technique wherein he can play chord changes and bass lines simultaneously. Combine that playing style with his use of a midi interface (a technology that allow his instrument to sound like many instruments at the same time), and his custom bass can sound, quite literally, like an organ and a bass at the same time. Their overlapping abilities formed this lush musical tapestry of melody, harmony, and tonality unlike anything I've witnessed previously.
This set included standards like Roy McCurdy's "Unit Seven," and "Blame it on my Youth," but I assure you, you've never heard them quit like this! A highlight for me was this remarkable trio's take on "Yours is my Heart Alone." And it was a real treat getting to hear legendary Timbales player Ramon Banda playing straight-ahead jazz. What a magical set!
Set EIGHT – Sunday
afternoon 4:30 PM – The Mike Garson Sextet - featuring Kornél Fekete-Kovacs
While I've introduced Mike, Tierney, Duncan, and Kornél in the paragraphs above, this sextet included some new faces on the weekend.
Bassist Bob Magnusson has received notoriety as a teacher and clinician. An active faculty member of Musician's Institute in Hollywood, California from 1977-1996, in 1998 he joined the faculty at San Diego Mesa Community College and the Coronado School of the Arts where he continues to teach high school and college students about harmony, music theory, and jazz improvisation. As fluent with classical as jazz, besides performing with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra and the San Diego Symphony, he has performed with many pop and jazz greats including Buddy Rich, Sara Vaughan, Jimmy Cobb, Art Pepper Quartet, the Benny Golson Quartet, Neil Diamond, Bonnie Raitt, 10,000 Maniacs, Madonna, Hank Jones, Cedar Walton, Jimmy Heath, Art Farmer, Kenny Barron, Freddie Hubbard, and Clifford Jordan.
Brooklyn born, Lori Bell is now a San Diego resident. An avid lover of chamber music, Lori performs regularly with The Rinaldi String Quartet, Caprice Strings, and The Cabrillo Orchestra. Her commitment to excellence is especially apparent in the breadth of her classical repertoire for flute. But Lori is no stranger to Brazilian styles, attested to by her 1989 sophomore album, Take Me To Brazil. In 2008, her work on The Music of Djavan featured the melodically and harmonically rich music of Brazilian songwriter and pop star, Djavan. That record was heralded as "a brilliant piece of discovery for jazz explorers" by the All Jazz Network and received a 2009 San Diego Music Award nomination for Best Jazz Album. Many have stated that she is technically brilliant flute player who has fallen under the radar of most jazz fans. Let me assure you, that is their loss!
Mike and Tierney
What a brilliant way to close and equally stirring and amazing inaugural event. This set included some amazing performances and unique interpretations. The ensemble put together one of the most complex and engaging versions of "Autumn Leaves" imaginable. They soared on a vibrant and stirring rendering of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and Tierney had the entire audience, including this listener, hypnotized with her unique reading and enchanting vocal prowess on Horace Silvers "Doodlin'".
For me, the highlight of this set was the world premiere of Mike's new composition called "Protest." The complexities of the piano synergized with the accompaniment of these exquisite musicians and Tierney's bewitching voice to create a moment in time that was pure magic.
The Garson Sextet swingin'
All Things Must Pass…
In what seemed like an instant, this three day, eight set, jazz extravaganza concluded. The sound was as remarkable in this great new performance space as the artists and the performances were spectacular. My photography had found me roving the entire hall over the three days, always looking for the right or a "different" shot. Even without the house reinforcement, in some of the most off-axis or unlikely locations, the sound was both convincingly real and surprisingly balanced everywhere I moved. Then there was the house reinforcement system! Using dozens of mic and patch cables from SoundString, Neumann and Beyerdynamic microphones, and employing nearly 20 Crown i-Tech 12000i amplifiers, the reinforcement had the potential to be spectacular.
I have to be honest here, though the house reinforced sound got better as the weekend progressed, there were sets, especially during the Keezer/Sprague opener, where the house sound was thin and lifeless. Know that this is not meant as a specific criticism; it is merely an observation. Keep in mind that this is a new hall with new staff (this was only their sixth event, remember). The fact that they were able to react to the artists concerns as rapidly and as effectively as they did over the span of the festival speaks highly to the potential and future of this hall.
You've no idea how pleased I am to be able to report that Jim (Blueport Jazz) and the Performing Arts Center both recorded this event. There is a serious likelihood of both high-resolution audio and HD video releases of this event in the near future, so keep an eye out for it.
It is hard to believe that such an all-star festival, covering so wide a variety of jazz genres—from Brazilian to Bebop, populated with such stellar performers and artists, was an inaugural event. I can't think of a more inviting location or a more splendid hall to host such events. Soka is a charming and captivatingly beautiful campus and this astonishing sounding Performing Arts Center is surely destined to be a highly desirable recording location for music and artists of all styles.
To have been able to photograph and report on this WILDLY successful and remarkable event was both my personal pleasure and professional privilege. So many talented artists, working across so many genres of Jazz, in one spectacular hall, over such a brief period was almost more than I could absorb, and it was certainly more than I deserved. Yet I had to remind myself that this was only the beginning. I can't wait to see what they accomplish next year!