Indy Jazz Fest wins despite obstacles 

The Eighth Annual Indy Jazz Fest overcame annoying wet drizzles and the loss of Wynton Marsalis to pull off an artistically successful event. APA’s Artistic Director Joel Harrison was very pleased with the three days of performances. “Overall I was thrilled; to me, it was the most consistent of any of the festivals that the APA has done.”

Festival-goers were exposed to a lot of new talent this year selected by Harrison, a policy he says is by design to showcase rising new stars on the jazz scene.

I was only able to cover some of the performances due to conflicting events within the festival. Friday opened with local Brazilian-styled group Ipanema, which played a spirited set with vocalist Julie Houston, called in at the last moment and doing an admirable job subbing for the group’s vocalist-leader Elizabeth Sousa. 

Vocalist Ilona Knopfler lived up to her glowing reviews and captured the crowd with her sophisticated, free-wheeling style. She delivered a challenging Thelonius Monk ballad, “Ask Me How,” with polished ease and closed her show with some rousing scat on “Bop Blues.”

Veteran Latin jazz pianist Eddie Palmieri brought some heavyweight players, especially the hornline with Donald Harrison’s sax, Conrad Herwig’s trombone and Brian Lynch’s trumpet, for some Afro Salsa rhythm grooves that turned on a sizeable throng and had them dancing during an energetic set.

Saturday, Groove Society, with its fresh-faced collegiate look, captivated the crowd with a highly professional vocal sound. All of the members did duplications of various instruments. The vocal colors and textures in tight big band arrangements were stunning.

Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, directed by co-leader/trumpeter Mark Buselli, performed three spirited numbers before tenor sax master Jimmy Heath joined in for two sets of three tunes each. He wailed away on his original “Mr. P” for his late brother, bassist Percy Heath. BWJO gave Heath roaring support and was brilliant, swinging hard with heated solos from all of the sections.

Soulive’s B-3 organ trio was a big crowd pleaser, playing more funk and R&B than jazz with vocalist Reggie Watts’ urging adding to the mix that fell short of a moshpit.

Sunday was New Orleans Day, and the weather took on the characteristics of the Big Easy with intermittent drizzles and pop-up showers. But that didn’t hold back the real fans.

Permagrin, formerly a New Orleans octet, now a duo that has relocated to Bloomington due to Katrina, served up a blend of computer-generated grooves with live guitar and drums in a fusion of New Orleans and Afro. Bloomington guest trumpeter Pat Harbinson played a searing solo on “World Be Free.”

APA’s Cole Porter Fellow Adam Birnbaum Trio played an outstanding set. This was a more mature and extroverted Birnbaum than two years ago, at the keyboard of a pricey Fazioli piano. The trio dispatched a varied, balanced set of standards and originals with a sensitive grasp of structure.

If anything represents authentic New Orleans, it’s the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Oh, how they did ramble — especially with their high energy “Second Line” marching strut on “When The Saints Go Marching In” that had a sizeable crowd singing, strutting and shuffling in front of the stage. For one set it was Mardi Gras.

Herbie Hancock drew what had to be a record crowd in front of the Jazz Central Stage. With West African guitarist Lionel Loueke getting equal time up front with Hancock, it was mesmerizing. On “Benny’s Tune,” Hancock showed his stylistic range on the Fazioli piano before segueing to Loueke for a dazzling display of his distinctive guitar technique, complete with tribal chants. As the skies opened up with a downpour, Hancock cut his set short by two numbers, ending with a resounding version of his jazz classic “Chameleon.”

There has been speculation about how much the rain affected the projected attendance of the festival. Many of those who attended voiced high praise for this year’s staging and the caliber of performances, in spite of the rain. And even as this is being written, work is already underway in planing the 2007 Indy Jazz Fest.

Jazz data

New on the jazz and blues scene: The French Quarter Cajun Bar & Grill at 2137 S. Meridian St. featuring authentic Crescent City cuisine prepared by relocated residents and featuring live jazz and Def Poetry Friday, June 24. Phil Hampton’s X-Factor Quintet performs 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Admission is $10.

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