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Jazzy day in Newport, by George
Publication: Boston Herald.com
Author: Bob Young
Nobody would have mistaken yesterday’s George Wein Carefusion Jazz Festival 55 at Fort Adams State Park for your granddaddy’s Newport Jazz Festival.
More than five decades after the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong held forth at this annual East Coast gathering of the jazz tribes, youth and the music’s modern edges were served. Big time.
The two veteran sax headliners on the main stage - Joshua Redman and Branford Marsalis - pushed the cause, too, with hefty helpings of envelope-stretching contemporary jazz. Only the most mainstream acts of the day, singer Jane Monheit and pianist Cedar Walton, provided much of a direct bridge to the music’s past.
Otherwise, the opening day of the two-day outdoor fest, with sunny skies and breeze-driven sailboats in Newport Harbor as backdrop, was a celebration of styles as diverse as the multi-ethnic, multi-aged crowd.
For the first time in memory, a larger contingent of young listeners comprised that crowd than ever before. Maybe it was the main stage headliner, rapper Mos Def and the Watermelon Syndicate, that drew them. Whatever it was, they were exposed to an impressive range of music.
Presenter and festival founder Wein took a break from tooling around the crowded grounds on a golf cart to sit and listen attentively to one of the day’s many surprises, the Vandermark 5, a remarkable saxes-electric cello-bass-drums ensemble that churned out improvisations that were tight, intense and definitely out there where the buses don’t run these days.
That was on one of the smaller stages, where pianist Vijay Iyer and his trio got the day started with bright wake-up-the-crowd pieces that were as sonically startling as they were revelatory.
A charismatic Christian McBride pulled in one of that stage’s biggest crowds for a driving set propelled by his acoustic bass, one of the warmest, chunkiest sounding instruments in jazz.
Cambridge-based Marsalis Music hosted a smaller tent on the Harbor that offered some of the day’s biggest moments, from a sweet set by Chilean vocalist Claudia Acuña to a memorable pairing of Marsalis and pianist Joey Calderazzo.
The highlight there, though, was a big band of 30 college musicians from North Carolina Central University who roared through a set of swing-fueled numbers that had the crowd roaring back in approval.
Young bassist Esperanza Spalding, a recent performer at the White House, pushed things in a direction on the main stage that showcased both her growing vocal talents and flair for the dramatic.
Today’s Newport lineup has a bit more of the old flavor with Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck and Roy Haynes, but the Bad Plus, James Carter, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Steve Bernstein are among those who should make sure the new is heard loud and clear, too.