Friday, June 15-Sunday, June 17
The ninth annual Indy Jazz Fest was blessed with two and a half days of exceptional artistic performances.
Women ruled supremely Friday night with Monika Herzig’s “Women in Jazz” tribute, setting the tone with featured vocalist Janiece Jaffe. Their version of a “Night in Tunisia” was a highpoint. Herzig’s blazing solo with Carolyn Duttons’ violin and Jaffe’s unison vocalese guided the way.
New piano sensation Hiromi more than lived up to her advanced acclaim with superb backing by her Sonicbloom quartet that featured the jazz-rock guitar sound of David Fiuczynski. This wisp of a young artist was awesome in her passionate solos on acoustic piano, jumping up and down while wailing away tension-filled chords and arpeggios, especially on “Deep into the Night.”
Regina Carter’s violin wowed the crowd with her magnificent technique and storytelling execution. Her quintet’s cohesive sound, especially with new clarinetist Darryl Harper’s articulate style, added a lot. And Grieg’s “Anitra’s Dance,” with its jazz overtones, stood out.
Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra of 16 women fired up with “Love Being Here with You,” a swinging flag-waver. DIVA saluted Ella Fitzgerald with a medley of her hits. The big surprise of the evening was young vocalist Rachel Price, who opened with “Serenade in Blue,” displaying a smoky contralto voice with ease and self-assurance, poise, passion and delivery. Price only performed three numbers with the band, but she firmly made believers of the audience that she is going to be among our top jazz vocalists.
Six-time Grammy nominee Nnnenna Freelon raised the bar with her spirited vocal romp on “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” She delivered a spellbinding set, closing out with DIVA on a hard-swinging arrangement of “I Feel Pretty.” The evening left no doubt to those on hand that women jazz instrumentalists have reached parity with their male counterparts.
On Saturday, June 16, Ben Riley’s Monk’s Legacy Septet opened with “Bright Mississippi,” followed by a rousing version of “Bemsha Swing” and the ballad “Ask Me Now,” featuring saxophonist Bruce Williams’ fluid alto and Jay Branford’s baritone. Spyro Gyra fans were not disappointed, as the band played a rousing set from its new CD, Good to Go-Go. New drummer Bonny Bonaparte from Trinidad has given Spyro Gyra a fresh wrinkle to its classics, especially “Morning Dance,” which was looser both melodically and rhythmically.
Bassist Frank Smith’s group, with Cynthia Layne on vocals, put on a burning groove set. Then the Rev. Al Green and his killer band and backup singers performed for 90 minutes in front of what had to be a record crowd for the APA. Green held them all with his soulful, gospel-tinged R&B.
On Sunday, June 17, the Cool City Swing Band of nine, with vocalist Shannon Forsell and Jimmy Guilford, gave a peppy set of pop, R&B and jazz standards with tight-swinging arrangements from leader Roy Geesa’s troops. Forsell did a perky rendition of “Route 66,” and Guilford sung, swung and scatted on an invigorating arrangement of “Take the A Train.” Both vocalists teamed up for a tongue-in-cheek rendering of “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You.”
Also on Sunday, Mark Buselli led his BWJO High School All Stars, 19 of the top jazz players in the state. Opening with a jazzy rock tune, “Point Taken,” the band was also outstanding on “In a Sentimental Mood,” which included exceptional solo features.
APA jazz fellow Dan Tepfer was in the zone with his trio’s mates Jorge Roeder (who played technically strong bass lines) and Richie Barshay (who played dynamically sensitive drums). Tepfer relaxed when he grooved on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” On Cole Porter’s “All Of You,” the trio took on a Bill Evans feel, but with more intense swing.
The festival closed on a magical note when Chick Corea and Bela Fleck gave the large crowd a solid hour of their virtuoso skills. Corea’s piano was like surging water tossing off choruses of musical waves, while Fleck supplied rhythmic and chordal support. Fleck’s banjo sounded fiery and unpredictably intense. On “Children’s Song #6,” they played humorous musical tag and then rapidly intertwined lines around each other before returning to the song’s theme. The crowd hung on every note. It was a mesmerizing performance and a fitting way to end the successful Jazz Fest.