Concert review: Indy Jazz Fest 2009

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It's 10:45 p.m. on Sunday night. Indy Jazz Fest is over and I'm sitting at The Chatterbox Lounge, listening to the post-fest music. Saxophonist Jared Thompson and his band are playing Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay" (the title track from the first Hubbard album I ever bought).

As I'm grinning over the music, I notice that The Chatterbox is about a third full. When bassist Marcus Miller finished the festival's closing set, I hobnobbed backstage for a half-hour before going to my car and leaving the parking garage with no traffic. I arrived on Mass. Ave. and easily found a parking spot and table inside.

I guess the Pollyanna in me was hoping for a little bit of a challenge when it came to the after-sets on Jazz Fest weekend. They were, after all, stressed by the festival organizers, billed right alongside official events in the program.

It's a Sunday, and I'll be bleary-eyed when I walk my daughter to the bus in the morning. But I stayed up. Where were you?

Obviously, I'm not talking to those who did attend. The two days at The Lawn in White River State Park looked the same attendance-wise. The center section eventually became full as the day went on. Stage left, not so bad. Stage right, well...

This year's Indy Jazz Fest reminded me of the film Big Night, the wonderful comedy with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub as brothers who run a traditional Italian restaurant. Sticking to the basics, they have very little business. Meanwhile, down the street, the rival Italian restaurant with the checked tablecloths and the spicy meat-a-balls has a line out the door.

The organizers of the festival - David Allee, Al Hall and Rob Dixon, who make up the new three-headed monster in Indianapolis, with apologies to Colts fans - took a chance by having a straight ahead jazz festival. In the past, Jazz Fest has featured crossover artists to bring more people in.

For those who don't like jazz at their jazz fest, I understand the business of bringing in folks like John Legend, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Buddy Guy and Patti Labelle. Granted, I was able to interview all those artists and had a ball seeing each. But I was intrigued to see how Jazz Fest would fare without a crossover headliner.

I got my answer. Will we find checked tablecloths and gratuitous garlic at next year's Fest?

This year's festival had a wide variety of jazz from the big bands of Steve Allee to the funkified jazz of Soulive and Marcus Miller. A number of local artists of varying styles got a chance to be heard. Solid performances all around. The weather, except for Soulive and Branford Marsalis, was cool but pleasant.

Some of my highlights include:

The Mark Buselli CD release party at The Jazz Kitchen last week, featuring an 18-piece orchestra including a singer.

Friday night's Freddie Hubbard tribute at the Madame Walker Theatre. The band celebrated Hubbard the composer more than Hubbard the performer (although four trumpeters lived up to Hubbard's prowess on the horn). Dr. David Baker, who presented the event and directed the band, took a spill after the show and was briefly hospitalized. But the good news is that, after he was released Sunday afternoon, he made his way back to Bloomington to conduct the IU Jazz Ensemble Monday night.

The 150 dancing fans who stuck around during Branford Marsalis's rain-soaked set. Eighteen-year-old drummer Justin Faulkner had people in the audience and backstage saying "Wow!" at his drumming prowess, and the band's beautiful performance of the ballad "Blossom of Parting" brought everyone a moment of tranquility. The tune almost made the rain stop. Almost.

Chicago jazz singer Kurt Elling's set opener. He took Joe Jackson's "Stepping Out" and made it sound like a 40 year-old scat standard instead of 25-year-old pop song.

A solid set by the 17-member Steve Allee Big Band. My favorite moment was when Allee's solo of "'Round Midnight" segued into a full-band version of J.J. Johnson's "Fatback Blues."

Marcus Miller grooving out on "Tutu." Miller recorded the song with Miles Davis (playing all instruments on the recording except for trumpet).

Indy Jazz Fest has entered a new phase with new organizers, a new location and, hopefully, an exclusive focus on jazz. I just wish there had been more people to enjoy the experience.

- Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party for WFYI 90.1 FM.

NUVO's Rita Kohn focused in on Mark Buselli's Sept. 23 CD release concert at the Jazz Kitchen in the below review:

Graceful compositions and arrangements marked by suppleness in variegated ensemble/solo/section movement and progressive subtleness from seemingly simple observations to complex conversations in ever-surprising configurations is the Buselli-Wallarab standard. The excitement is in hardly ever second-guessing what's coming next for a first-time hearing and the delight is in "ah-ha" recognition of why it works during successive listening.

The 9:00 p.m. set featured three pieces from the Owl Studios album: Buselli's layered arrangement of Tom Molier's swinging hard bop "Artificial Be-Bop" featuring Rob Dixon on alto sax and Derrick Gardner on trumpet and two songs introducing Kelleen Strutz as an exciting interpretive vocalist bringing forward nuances of the newly composed "Open Up Your Heart" [music by Buselli, lyrics by Jennifer Johnson] and Buselli's heightened arrangement of the 1936 standard "If I Should Lose You" [music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Rubin]. Buselli voiced his flugelhorn on the first and Wallarab wrapped his trombone around the second in collaboration with Strutz.

The set also included Cherokee, Play Song, Noah Noah, Pussy Cat Dues and Beehive, each highlighting the sixteen players individually and in sections, and each retaining the B-W credo of re-working standards only to heighten the original intention. Marking their fifteenth year of collaboration, which includes five previous CDs and many concerts, Buselli undertook An Old Soul as a solo project, to be followed by a Wallarab solo project.

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