Publication: Boston Globe
Author: Kevin Lowenthal
Friday night, at Symphony Hall, the BeanTown Jazz Festival opened with an all-star offering that came within at least shouting distance of its advance billing as “concert of the century.” Titled “A Celebration of Jazz and Joyce,” the concert’s personnel was lovingly assembled by jazz impresario George Wein, the proceeds benefiting the Berklee scholarship fund named in honor of his late wife, Joyce Alexander Wein.
The show opened with rousing quintet versions of Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You” and Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House.” Bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Jimmy Cobb were a Rolls-Royce of a rhythm section. Saxophonist Lew Tabackin and trumpeter Jon Faddis blended beautifully and soloed commandingly. On the second tune, Cobb traded whirlwind eight-bar solos with the other four.
Then the duo of sweet-voiced Chilean vocalist Claudia Acuña and pianist Joey Calderazzo performed their co-composition “Amanecer,” her winningly modest and direct singing accompanied by his hushed piano.
Branford Marsalis, on soprano sax, joined Calderazzo for an exhilarating roller-coaster ride through the pianist’s eccentric “Bri’s Dance,” which threatened to go off the rails but never did.
Marsalis remained, Cobb and Drummond returned, and saxophonist Joe Lovano and pianist Kenny Werner joined them for two oblique, intense, and virtuosic workouts on the standards “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise” and “Body and Soul” that barely even glanced at the melodies.
Pianist Michel Camilo’s tour-de-force solo performance of his composition “Caribe” alternated quiet, nostalgic passages with torrents of notes. The sold-out audience rose to its feet to applaud.
Faddis and guitarist Howard Alden ended the first half with a playful and inventive duet on Eubie Blake’s lovely “Memories of You,” which the trumpeter had performed at Joyce Wein’s memorial service.
After intermission, the trio of Allen, Drummond, and Cobb played Charlie Parker’s “Ah-Leu-Cha,” with Allen seeming to blend a bit of Bach into the bebop. Violinist Regina Carter and guitarist Alden augmented the trio to play the haunting theme from the film “Black Orpheus,” showcasing Carter’s sumptuous tone and swinging lines.
Lizz Wright sang “Here’s to Life” in her rich, beautifully restrained contralto, accompanied sparely and sensitively by Allen. Then Carter joined them to provide violin commentary on “Reaching for the Moon.”
Tabackin contributed a florid, swinging solo flute version of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” a Joyce Wein favorite. Then pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi played two astonishing unaccompanied piano pieces: a fierce rendition of her own hypnotic “The Village” and an even fiercer take on Bud Powell’s driving “Un Poco Loco.”
Herbie Hancock performed an impromptu for acoustic piano. The piece ranged widely in color, density, and volume but lacked a clear-cut theme, making it drag. His strengths came out on his classic composition “Dolphin Dance,” as he engaged young bassist Esperanza Spalding in a quicksilver tussle in which she more than held up her end. During this tune, legendary drummer Roy Haynes seemed a third wheel. But he more than made up for that with a spectacular solo number that encapsulated the history of jazz drums, prompting the night’s second standing ovation.
The final tune was Parker’s “Confirmation,” essayed by Faddis, Lovano, Tabackin, Alden, Carter, Werner, Drummond, and Cobb. On the final repeat of the head, they burst into several different keys for a raucous, polytonal capstone to a satisfyingly diverse evening.