It was a very good year in spite of the rain for the fourth Indy Jazz Fest. Though it was scaled back in duration, the Indy Jazz Fest has shown that a big statement can be made in less time than a full week. For two and a half days a lot of big statements were made by over 60 artists in the jazz and pop world on the festival's five stages. My attention was focused on the Jazz Heritage Stage during the entire event - and exceptional performances took place.
On Friday night, there was the opening youthful enthusiasm of the Y-Zone Gospel Choir and the young APA Cole Porter Jazz Fellow winner, Aaron Parks. The Aaron Parks Trio played a tasteful set which showed Parks having a maturity way beyond his fledgling years. That quality was demonstrated on a lovely ballad, 'Memory of a Flame.' It set the tone for one of the Indiana Avenue Revisited legends, reedman Jimmy Spaulding, who brought his sextet from New York and played a scintillating set, highlighted by a raucous, crowd-pleasing version of the jazz classic 'Moanin.'' The next set, from another Indy Avenue Revisited legend, the dapper dressing guitarist Paul Weeden, showcased his octet. Veterans David Young, Pookie Johnson, Emmit Stewart and Clifford Ratliff made up the horn section. The great Indy drummer Willis Kirk, with Frank Smith and Carl Hines, propelled a relaxed swing for this Basie-type set.
The temperature rose when the unbelievable Arturo Sandoval took over after a brief rain delay. Not even the showers affected the crowd during Sandoval's uninhibited performances on trumpet - his was a tour de force exhibition of scat, where he even got down to emulating a walking bass. Then this musical marvel sat down and proceeded to wail on piano, winding up with some grooving salsa sounds. Sandoval completely captivated the crowd.
Saturday gave the festival a new sound with an emphasis on smooth jazz. It opened with a tribute to Indy Women In Jazz, headed by Cathy Morris and featuring Monika Herzig and Mary Moss. Monika Herzig's Trio played a brilliant acoustic set, backed up by one of the finest rhythm sections anywhere, with Frank Smith on bass and Kenny Phelps on drums. From the opening tune of 'Effendi' to Brubeck's classic 'Blue Rondo ý la Turk,' Herzig rode on top of her powerhouse swinging rhythm section, dug in and played with much fire and soul, especially on 'Blue Rondo ý la Turk.' Cathy Morris grooved the crowd with 'Jay Jay,' with its dancing beat, and Mary Moss swung hard through her set, especially on 'Fly Me to the Moon.'
Frank Glover's Quartet upped the musical ante with Glover and Sifferlen showing a pair of local talents that should be on the national scene. Noteworthy was their flight on 'Coltrane's Impressions.'
Smooth jazz leaders Fourplay with Bob James, Larry Carlton, Nathan East and Harvey Mason dispatched their signature sound, opening up with 'Max O Man.' This laid-back group caught fire and got down and grooved hard on 'Blues Force,' with Larry Carlton playing some of the most ripping-hard blues with 12 choruses and bringing the crowd to its feet. The cutting-edge sound of the Yellowjackets hasn't lost any of its fusion probing. But their set was 75 percent washed out due to an intense storm that hit, shutting down all stages while fans scurried for cover. After the rain, it was sunny and like an omen for Spyro Gyra, who didn't disappoint the fans who returned to the site. They played a medley of their hits and had the audience rocking.
The evening's highlight was the Tribute to Charlie Parker, led by 77-year-old drummer Roy Haynes, who played with 'Bird' in the developing years of bebop. With Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Kenny Garrett on alto sax, Dave Kioski on piano and Avishai Cohen on bass, we had a tour de force of bop and neo-bop. An intriguing version of the Parker bop/blues tune 'Now's the Time' was played in a modal slower tempo. 'Birds of a Feather' showed that Parker is alive and well.
Sunday offered some of the most motivating sounds, starting with the Buselli/Wallerab Jazz Orchestra. Talk about being primed to play: This 17-piece juggernaut of sounds painted tonal colors and textures from their exceptional arrangements. When it came time to shout, they exploded with ferocity and enthusiasm. Especially outstanding was the J.J. Johnson tune 'Little J,' with the band literally roaring as one behind some blazing solos. This set was a new watermark for BWJO. Steve Allee's Quartet was next up with the Smith-Phelps rhythm machine driving Allee's ever-swinging piano, with guest tenor saxophonist Rob Dixon's potent soft sheets of sound offerings. Contemporary jazz was well-served by the David Sanborn group that featured some big names like lke Ricky Peterson on keyboards and B-3 and Terry Lynn Carrington, who was relentlessly driving the whole set. 'Fullhouse' was a crowd-pleasing funk romp with Sanborn playing his trademark power sax. I felt his most eloquent sojourn was on the ballad 'As We Speak,' where he told a sensitive story with taste. David Benoit continued the high level of musicianship in his set. The beautiful ballad dedicated to his father and Father's Day, titled 'Dad's Room,' was played almost reverently and captured the massive crowd. Benoit grooved, swung and charmed, then left us with his Charlie Brown signature hit 'Linus and Lucy,' much to the delight of the crowd.
If anyone in attendance was not aware of the stature of the Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, their opinion was changed after her set wrapped up the Jazz Heritage Stage activity. She opened with a no-holds-barred version of 'The Twelfth of Never,' with a top group behind her. Reeves, using vocalese during the song, commented about the city, local artists she met and what she saw here. She was brilliant. When her set ended she had the throng in the palm of her hand.
One thing was apparent this year about the Indy Jazz Fest and its fans: Both were more sophisticated about who they are and how to relate to the music and, as a result, the festival appeared to be quite satisfying all the way around.
Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.