Posts Tagged ‘Burlington Discover Jazz Festival’

BDJF: the fingers

June 12, 2011

Park me in front of a good gypsy jazz group and it’s a guarantee I’ll walk out with a smile. It’s never failed. There’s just something about that music.

The first concert of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival‘s final night featured the exceedingly gifted, swinging and very funny French gypsy jazz group, Les Doigts de L’Homme. They were probably “good” a few years ago. Now they’re outstanding.

I found out they were coming to the Festival earlier this spring on their first-ever US visit when my friend Jim (of the Queen City Hot Club) mentioned it, with a rare “not to be missed” endorsement. I know enough to take him at his word, and had a chance to find out firsthand what he meant when the quartet took the stage this evening.

Les Doigts de L’Homme (“Fingers of Man”) strummed, tapped, swung and spun their way through several generous handfuls of tunes including both originals and classics. Blue Skies and Ol’ Man River were in there, and so was one of the very best, bluesiest and smart versions of St. James Infirmary I’ve ever heard. (All from their recent recording, 1910.)

Their performance is a colorful profusion of varying styles and nuances, often seamlessly changing course uncountable times in the development of each song. A particularly nice inclusion was the oud, played ably by Olivier Kikteff (who doesn’t seem capable of doing anything uncapably in music). It introduced a depthy and longingly melancholic flavor to the mix. I’ve heard Olivier also plays electric guitar and banjo with equal dexterity, on occasion – not in this concert, but notably in a series of educational videos he’s produced for the band’s My Space page. I’ll be looking those up soon for sure.

After the show with Les Doigts downstairs, many folks made their way to the Flynn Main Stage above for the last show of the Festival, Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones. Not me. I was quite content to walk out with a big smile and let the happy thoughts of Les Doigts continue to ring in my memory for a little longer as the last sounds I heard during this remarkable 2011 Discover Jazz Festival.

BDJF: hargrove/gambarini

June 12, 2011

Double bill last night at the Burilngton Discover Jazz Festival: the Roy Hargrove Quintet, and the Roberta Gambarini Quartet.

I was lingering over a lovely, long dinner on Church street and arrived at the theater after 8pm. The lobby was empty, except for a few folks at the merch table and a handful of ushers, looking expectant when we came in – “do you already have your tickets?” – oh yes, we did, with the time clearly printed on them. We were a little late…anyway. Everything seems to run a little slower during Jazz Fest time.

The question was, with two groups like that on the double bill – who was on first? Could have been either. I had to ask. It turned out to be the Roberta Gambarini Quartet – “La Gambarini”, as she’s affectionately known to fans. She sings in Italian occasionally, reminding us of her native roots, she plays a mean muted hand trumpet solo and she owns the stage when she’s anywhere near it. Can’t take your eyes off her arresting presence. Part of that is her stunning looks, but an even bigger part of that is her leading phrasing, enticingly extending a musical hand to guide one’s ears forward through each song. One area of particular specialty in Gambarini’s talents is her control of a line, regardless of the volume. She can open up in a full-throated note, but equally compelling are the quiet lines, spinning out as effortlessly as a delicate strand of spiderweb on the summer evening breeze.

As for the scatting (one of the reasons she’s so frequently compared to Sarah and Ella), a few friends commented to me at intermission how pleasantly understated that was. That was it, exactly – not machine gun fire, not abrasive, not tuneless in favor of packing in more tongue-trippy scat syllables. I’ve heard all of those unfortunate effects of the style, at one point or another over the years of listening to jazz vocalists. Not so with La Gam. As with any tool in a vocalist’s rep it’s to be used judiciously, thoughtfully, and only in context of the greater effort.

She’s an outstanding musician in all of the ways one hopes for.

It’s also easy to focus on the singer in a situation like this (on top of supreme musicianship those sequined curves don’t hurt in keeping her front and center) and skip mentioning the equally important individual contributions of ‘the rest of’ the group. So let’s not do that. Musical experiences like this can only be the result of a fine ensemble effort. The other three quarters of the Quartet are pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber and percussionist Joe Farnsworth. Mabern is a jazz vet, a legend with a career that was made with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Lee Morgan…and Sarah Vaughan. He can swing it. And he did. But he also offered just the right supportive complement within the ensemble, whether offering counterpoint to the vocals or playing off of a tasty bass solo. Less familiar to me (before last night) were bassist John Webber and drummer John Farnsworth. They won’t be strangers anymore, I plan on looking into more of their work and doing some listening. Impressive, both. And it was really nice to see the easy smiles that passed between the musicians at various times, they were having a great time just being there.

When I saw Gambarini three years ago at the Detroit Jazz Festival she was singing with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band it was an outdoor amphitheater on the city’s riverfront and the crowd of hundreds was enthusiastic, responsive and vocal. Gambarini responded in kind with with a presence that can only be called electric. I wouldn’t expect that to have been the same kind of performance at the Flynn Space last night, necessarily (seated, indoors, in Vermont) – that’s part of the nuance of any performer, creating different experiences for different settings and situations. But I think I still wanted that, or at least a little. The energy level of last night’s performance was rather subdued, creating a much more homogeneous-sounding set than any of the individual musical contributions would have suggested on their own.

The Roberta Gambarini Quartet

Speaking of that memorable Detroit Jazz Fest experience…Roy Hargrove was at that one too, although not with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band at that particular moment. (Yes, he and Roberta Gambarini have actually shared the stage before – together, with that Band – and, he scats! Check it out here.)

The Roy Hargrove Quintet

The Quinet is alto sax/flute man Justin Robinson, bassist Ameen Saleem, drummer Montez Coleman, pianist Sullivan Fortner and two-time Grammy winner Hargrove (flugelhorn, trumpet). Loved them. It’s such a pleasure to enjoy music knowing it’s in good hands, well in control and yet still quite capable of offering discoveries and moments of surprise and delight. After an uneven start with the first two numbers, the Hargrove Quintet settled in and delivered on all counts with dizzying solos and masterly competence. It was tight, it was exciting. One thing you know for sure you’re going to get when you hear Hargrove’s touch, either on his own instruments or with the several groups he’s formed, is a powerful sound with superbly executed musicianship coming from every corner.

Roy Hargrove (photo by Groovin High Records)

If I could want for anything in the Quintet it might be that the group take some time to explore the quieter, more intimate nuances of performace that are uniquely available to a smaller group. It may not be something that comes naturally (nor should it) to a big band, or an Afro-Cuban-inspired ensemble (both of which configurations Hargrove has also created) but a more sparely populated combo setup could be a great opportunity to deepen the expressive palette in ways that these excellent musicians are certainly capable of exploring. Think of the sound the Miles Davis Quintet had on “Bye Bye Blackbird”, from the ‘Round About Midnight recording.  Or, dare I even invoke the spectre – anything from Kind of Blue – and that was a sextet, with one more player, but still as deliciously intimate as it gets with jazz. Hargrove gets there in the ensemble he’s playing with on Shirley Horn’s I Remember Miles, but I would have loved to hear the Quintet get there too last night in all the ways I know they can.

One of these performances could have been a solo headliner. Both of them on the same bill goes a long way to illustrate what is so special about Burlington’s annual festival. We may live up here in a little green rural corner of the map but remarkably, but thanks to the organizations like BDJF that create a thriving culture, we don’t miss a thing for that privilege.

Last day of the Jazz Festival is here. (Already??) Les Doigts de L’Homme and Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones close it down tonight. See you there!

BDJF: Jazz Lab Studios

June 12, 2011

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Gordo Clark

For the last several years, the Discover Jazz Festival has sponsored Jazz Lab – an opportunity for a few select bands to work with professional audio engineers on their recording projects. The sessions (three, generally, one each spread out over three afternoons) are also broadcast live on the air in their entirety on Burlington’s community radio station, The Radiator – 105.9FM.

Today was the last of the sessions for this year’s Festival. The final band was the Burlington-based Afrobeat band Barika. They had been hand-picked to come in and record the final two tracks on their forthcoming album. By the time I arrived at the BCA Center’s second floor the main part of the session was just concluding and the engineers were working on a few overdubs with keyboardist Andric Severance and trombonist Gordo Clark. It’s a cool experience to be part of a live recording session, watching the creative process shape the sound and evolve as the music takes form.

That’s what Jazz Lab is about: along with being a valuable opportunity for the bands that are involved, it’s also an open setting that welcomes a transient audience. Visitors can walk right in off the street, come in and stay a while, learn a little about the recording process, and leave whenever they need to. Nothing formal. In listening to today’s recording session I have to think that situation has potential to add a little edge to the performance, much as any other live gig does. Here’s one of the takes:

Barika’s new album is expected to be released next month.

BDJF: talking with bob, part II

June 11, 2011

(This is the second part of a two-part article about the conversation I had with Burlington Discover Jazz Festival critic-in-residence Bob Blumenthal on Friday, June 10, 2011. Here’s the first part.)

Bob and I continued talking for quite a while after the video had stopped rolling, covering topics including Coltrane, Myra Melford, and the age-old connection between visual art and music. As someone who’s studied both, the interwoven (and wholly inter-dependent!) nature of the arts has always fascinated me. And it’s a subject Bob himself has raised a number of times over the years, most notably in the listening session he led a couple of years ago on Ornette Coleman’s landmark 1958 album The Shape of Jazz to Come (which does not have especially notable cover art, but rather the musical sensibilities in the album itself mirror the explosive visual art of that era) and at this festival’s “Meet the Artist” educational session on June 3rd in a discussion about Miles Davis’ 1970 album Bitches Brew (with iconic art work by Mati Klarwein).

We also talked about Bob’s collaboration with photographer John Abbott, the new book Saxophone Colssus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins. “John got the ball rolling on the project,…” Bob began – and he went on to describe how the project evolved to become the glossy, 160-page volume that was released on its subject’s 80th birthday last September.

It’s not the only book written about the sax legend, so I was curious about what Bob wanted people to take away from this one – what this book offers that’s unique on the subject. The answer came immediately: “To me Rollins was not only right from the outset one of my top 2-3 musicians, he was a role model for me. He was a role model for me and I wasn’t even a musician.”

When it comes to Sonny Rollins’ relationship with both Bob and the photographer John Abbott, it’s both musical and personal. That’s evident right from the outset, in the introduction paragraphs written by each of them. That sensibility carries through the rest of the book as well, with the relation of story after first-hand story, and in intimate images that capture Rollins at home, traveling, signing autographs, and practicing his instrument outside of his home studio.

Keep in mind as you leaf through the book the insight that Bob shared about its stunning photographs: the ones Abbott is especially pleased with are the shots taken off-stage in concert, as the camera captures Rollins making eye contact with the other musicians in the band. Every photo in the book is a product of long experience and no small measure of talent, to be sure, but as any seasoned photographer can tell you, at least 90% of getting any great shot is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. That proves to be true even for someone as experienced and familiar with his subject as Abbott: these live concert shots are a real catch!

Bob said he was hoping to get a book proposal written while visiting Burlington this week, but as often happens during the Jazz Festival the time just…melted away. As a future project, he’s interested in writing about how the LP record really defined an era in recorded music, and culture in general. Along those lines, if you’re going to be in the Boston area between now and Labor Day he highly recommends including a stop at the ICA on the waterfront to visit the temporary exhibit, The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl.

You can also see Bob’s work in the nine online essays he’s written for the PBS Freedom Riders series website.

It’s been another great jazz festival this year, brimming with countless memorable experiences in both music and learning. Future festivals have every opportunity to be equally as meaningful as long as they continue to encourage curiosity and thoughtful discussion of the art in sessions with people who share Bob Blumenthal’s passion for this special music.

Still curious? Here’s more:

  • Interview with Bob Blumenthal and John Abbott

Big thanks to Paula at the Flynn Center for opening the Flynn Space on short notice and providing Bob and me a quiet place to have our talk yesterday afternoon.

BDJF: talking with bob, part I

June 11, 2011

Bob Blumenthal and his new book on Sonny Rollins

Yesterday afternoon I caught up with Bob Blumenthal for a conversation about his career, his new book, and his 10+ years as the jazz critic in residence at the annual Discover Jazz Festival, underway right now in downtown Burlington.

I’ve been attending the sessions he’s hosted at the Jazz Festival since 2005, shortly after I moved to Vermont. The years have offered a richness of personal anecdotes and insight into artists including Sonny Rollins, Sidney Bechet, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, and many more jazz personalities than I can begin to list here.

You have a pressing question about something you heard, or an artist whose music you’ve just discovered? Ask Bob. You want to float some theory you’ve developed about Coltrane’s second quartet, or share the incredulity about that thing Ornette did with his solo in Buckminster Fuller? Again, talk to Bob.

He’s patient, in radio interviewing terms someone we would describe as “a good listener”. He’s gracious and genuine, encouraging all pedigrees of musical opinion without imposing his own judgment because, as he well knows, such authority has the potential to unintentionally shut down a conversation cold. And he’d much rather have that conversation, whatever the course or the outcome.

Bob Blumenthal has been writing about jazz since his college days in the late ’60s. In talking to him I still caught some of his wonder at being able to make a career doing something he’d loved from such a young age. At first he was on a different career path, which included law school and a year working in a private firm…here’s the rest of that story, and a lot more:

* Ed note: our conversation began with a quote I shared with Bob from Terry Barrett’s excellent book, Criticizing Art. In the opening chapter Barrett quotes several art critics talking about why they do what they do. I read Robert Rosenblum’s thought on the subject: “You presumably write about works of art because you love them. I don’t write out of hate. I write out of love, and that’s what I think criticism should primarily be.”

(The second part of this article is here.)

BDJF: last-minute cancellation

June 10, 2011

A last-minute note from the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival this afternoon:


Posted on June 10, 2011

We regret to inform you that tonight’s performance has been cancelled. Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band featuring Terence Blanchard are unable to arrive here in Burlington due to travel complications.

The Meet-the-Artist session with Bob Blumenthal scheduled for 6:30 is also cancelled.

All tickets will be refunded to the original method of purchase. Please allow one week for refunds to be processed. If you have any questions or concerns please contact the Flynn Tix box office at 802-86-FLYNN.  

We apologize for the cancellation and we sincerely hope you’ll join us at future Burlington Discover Jazz Festival events.

Please note: The Vermont All State Jazz Ensemble will play on the Church Street Marketplace stage in front of City Hall from 8-9 pm.


I’ll offer a suggestion now that if you bought tickets for this concert please consider not accepting a refund, in favor of forfeiting the ticket cost as a small donation to the Festival.

This situation is not the artists’ fault, though their contract may still require that they be paid (something) despite the cancelled appearance. This is not the Jazz Festival’s fault, but now they are losing income from one of their big headliner acts *and* may still be under some obligation to pay the artists at least a percentage of their performance fees. I don’t know, but it’s a good guess this could be a considerable loss to the Festival. As an organization that provides so much for free to the community, this seems like a small gesture of good will that could be made to give a little back.

Just my thought.

BDJF: myra melford

June 9, 2011

Myra Melford at this afternoon's "Meet the Artist" pre-concert talk

 “In the end no one else can teach us how to find our own voice, we have to do that ourselves.”

BDJF: catherine russell

June 8, 2011

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“You know I just go to my heroes, look through their catalogues…” So began tonight’s concert with Catherine Russell at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

There did emerge a certain pattern after a little while, with Cat singing songs made famous by a select handful of folks from Peggy Lee to Jackie Wilson. Fats Waller and Dinah Washington were also repeat favorites through the evening.

The set began with the sassy, upbeat number We the People – a Depression-era Waller original from Russell’s most recent album, Inside This Heart of Mine (which takes its name from another Waller chart). It’s aged well. In fact the way things are these days, the song doesn’t seem to have aged at all. Its optimism is just as fresh and relevant as it ever was:

“We the People
Gotta have singin’, plenty of swingin’
Please the people and you will never go wrong.
We don’t give a rip about taxation
Long as legislators give the nation syncopation
We, the People
Have to keep happy, have to keep snappy
Gotta have rhythm and song.”

After that it was the slinky All the Cats Join In (same album), and a playful rendition of My Man’s An Undertaker – a Dinah Washington classic which had the packed house chuckling with Russell’s good-natured hamming all the way through. And the good tunes just kept on coming.

Cat’s charming, alright. A storyteller. A stylish singer who really loves the songs she’s singing, and she works with an ensemble that tastefully balances the brightness of her musical personality. The lineup includes pianist Mark Shane, bassist Lee Hudson, and, alternating on guitar and amplified banjo (!), Matt Munisteri.

Apart from her considerable ease of stage presence, at least equally impressive is the range and depth of her repertoire. When was the last time I heard anyone sing Harold Arlen songs (except for THAT one) live in concert? Tonight, listening to her sing Arlen’s beautiful, simple tune As Long As I Live I wanted to hear more songs from that era at the same time I was grateful just to hear that one. There is a notably thoughtful depth of scholarship that comes through in Catherine Russell’s sets.

Before stepping out on her own, the first part of her career was dedicated to touring extensively and performing with other artists including Bette Midler, David Bowie, Rosanne Cash, Al Green, Cyndi Lauper, and Steely Dan. As a result Cat mentioned having come to a solo career later in her life, with her first solo recording being released just five years ago. Since then she’s been on a regular schedule of releasing albums every couple of years. The next one (just finished recording yesterday, she said!) will be released early next year.

I really enjoyed tonight’s concert, mostly for being able to get that extra dimension of understanding a live experience brings to music. It’s one thing to hear Cat sing these songs on her album; it’s quite another to see her acting them out and infusing life into them through her affectionate interactions with the other musicians.

Sometimes I wonder what performers think when they come here and it’s so quiet as they’re pouring their hearts and souls out on stage. This evening’s typically polite Vermont audience let the band do its thing for the most part, withholding most spontaneous outbursts during each number, but showed its appreciation with generous applause after each one.

It was well deserved.

This one’s from 1946, Benny Goodman’s own version of All The Cats Join In:

BDJF: cat’s here

June 8, 2011

Catherine Russell tonight at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, 8:30pm.


BDJF: jazz lab – live on the air

June 8, 2011

Burlington’s community radio station, WOMM FM-LP “The Radiator” 105.9FM is a media sponsor of the Discover Jazz Festival for the third year in a row.

One of the exciting products of this partnership is the live broadcast of the Festival’s Jazz Lab events! Jazz Lab is an interactive, real-time insight into the process of making music. When the Lab is happening, it will be broadcasting live on the Radiator. They start this afternoon:

– Weds. 6/8, 1-6pm: featuring Percussionist Justin Peake with Jonathan Freilich (of the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars) and local musicians from viperHouse and Vorcza

– Thurs. 6/9, 1-6pm: Snarky Puppy (free-form improv with vocals)

– Sat. 6/11, 11am-4pm: Barika, who will be using their Jazz Lab time to record the last two songs for their new album

Check out Jazz Lab live on the Radiator (online at, or stop by the BCA Center and be there in person for the live recording sessions!

%d bloggers like this: