Hyde Park Jazz Festival (I)
Today proved a tough one for the annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Although it didn’t rain during the Festival’s actual hours of operation, the skies were foreboding, particularly after a wet Friday night. Attendance was way down. Too bad for those who stayed away. The Festival offered a wide range of excellent jazz (and dance) at both indoor and outdoor venues.
The two most memorable performances both involved dance. The first was entitled Requiem for Jazz. It was a commissioned work, conceived by Angel Bat Dawid, which features a jazz orchestra, chorus, projected film, dancers, and a painter who starts and completes a painting while all the action stage transpires around her. The whole thing was quite the epic. Particularly notable was the lighting. While many hands were necessary to pull off this examination of jazz’ death and rebirth, Dawid presumably had a hand in each aspect of this complex production. She is one talented person, who also brought an element of gospel to the mix.
Later in the day, Chicago saxophonist, Isaiah Collier showed off his compositional chops in a work entitled The Story of 400 Years, which ran for about 90 minutes. Like Dawid’s work, Collier’s was presented on a grand scale, with an orchestra that included some high school students, classical baller movements, and a narrative that focused on slavery. The dance was choreographed by Kennedy Banks, who Collier subsequently told me was his girlfriend. I advised him to marry her.
In between, I caught the last notes of the Ari Brown Quintet on one of the outdoor stages. This group is always worth hearing, particularly with Avreeayl Ra on drums and Yosef Ben-Israel on bass. They play straight-ahead jazz with an edge. It was then over to the Smart Museum to hear the Regulators, a group that is working in the style of John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.
I also caught Obert Davis’ Sextet at the Hyde Park Union Church. Some pretty terrific trumpet coming from Davis, supported by Ernie Adams on drums and Stewart Miller on bass. Rajiv Halim (saxophone), Reggie Thomas (piano) and John Moulder (guitar) filled out the mix.
It was then onto the just re-opened Oriental Institute where Chicago sitarist Shanta Nurullah was leading a trio. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard the blues played on sitar. Nurullah also specializes in storytelling. Her story about slaves flying a way was very engaging.
I then briefly caught vibes phenom Joel Ross on the Midway stage as I headed to the Logan Center to perform my emcee duties. I had the pleasure of introducing Willie Jones III and a group of musicians who all worked with the late Roy Hargrove in what turned into a tribute to Roy and his influence on and nurturing of these and other musicians. Some pretty straight ahead jazz, with vocals added by the elegantly attired Renee Neufville. Being the emcee, permitted me to sit through the soundcheck, which provided some nice photographic opportunities.
After Jones, I grabbed something to eat in the Logan Cafe. I then headed back to the main Logan’s main performance hall to hear Sylvie Courvoisier (piano) and Mary Halvorson (guitar and electronics) perform what might best be described as acoustic electronic music, with all sort of bent and misaligned notes that sounded fairly aligned. The hall was packed, which was not surprising because Halvorson won a coveted MacArthur Foundation Genius award three days earlier.
After Courvoisier and Halvorson, I caught Tia Fuller’s Diamond Cut, which featured Fuller on some cutting saxophone. It was then up to the Logan Center Penthouse to hear Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Kris Davis (piano), and Nasheet Waits (drums) play one extended piece of what might best be described as contemporary jazz. The room was packed.
By now I was exhausted, but I still made it to the 11:30 Day 1 Finale in Rockefeller Chapel. Amir ElSaffar lead a group that included bass, clarinet, strings, saunter, and trumpet. The single piece was entitled Ahwaal. It had been commissioned by the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland. The program notes indicate the “composition is meditative with repeating rhythmic cycles and a slow development. Each section is a kind of immersion. The music consists of composed and improvised elements, and drawing on the microtonal resonances of Maqam, with a subtle nod to the late quartets of Beethoven.” To my ears, it was of the highest caliber, but it was the wrong time and place for this performance. At 11:30 PM on a Saturday night, particularly after 10 hours of the often challenging jazz that preceded the finale, the Festival organizers should have chosen something more upbeat and appealing to a larger audience. The chapel was not even half full, and people streamed out throughout the performance. Even allowing for the weather, the chapel should have been much fuller. The organizers should have staged this performance on the Logan Center’s main stage earlier in the evening. Jones and Company might have been the better choice for the late night slot.
Aside from the that misstep, the Festival offered those who braved the weather a fabulous and varied day of music. I am looking forward to sunny skies and more music next year.
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