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Fire and Rain Mark BeanTown 2008

By Fred Bouchard

 
  Drummer Cindy Blackman and guitarist David Gilmore
  Photos by Phil Farnsworth

While heavy rains forced the cancellation of the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival outdoor events on Saturday, September 27, fiery performances at concerts on the previous two nights generated a good amount of heat and light indoors. Top national and local talent stayed dry while treating festivalgoers to an array of contemporary jazz styles. Thursday night's kickoff show at Berklee's Club 939 featured three artists from Berklee's student-run label, Jazz Revelation Records. Before an enthusiastic audience, pianists Manami Morita and Evgeny Lebedev and bassist Hyunwoo Han led their bands during performances of their original pieces, which are featured on the latest Jazz Revelation disc, Common Ground.

Friday night's Berklee Performance Center concert allowed a capacity crowd to experience the distinct and evolving styles of two premier female drummers, Cindy Blackman '80 and Terri Lyne Carrington '83. Emcee Eric Jackson, host of the Eric in the Evening radio show on WGBH-FM, remarked that a ceiling drip near his mic would turn to steam once Blackman's and Carrington's bands got rolling. His quip proved prophetic. Both ensembles came to play with utmost preparation, seriousness, and warmth.

 
Keyboardist Patrice Rushen  

Blackman lashed incisively with her in-the-pocket group. Sidemen J.D. Allen (tenor sax), Carlton Holmes (keyboards), and George Mitchell (bass) made space for guest guitarist David Gilmore (Blackman's former classmate), who etched his way into the band's steely set. Blackman's hard quintet polished well-crafted blues and sophisticated funk to a glistening sheen.

Carrington offered a program of shimmering compositions that harnessed the formidable musical intelligence of her band. Foremost among the group were keyboard stars Patrice Rushen and Geri Allen, who worked hand in glove to enhance each other's lines and the band's overall groove. Carrington played simmering rolls throughout, feinting and surging in tandem with bassist Matt Garrison as the set blossomed with grace and logic.

Standout tunes were the Lennon/McCartney chestnut "Michelle," obliquely reharmonized to explore subtle relational complexities implied in the lyrics. Rushen's tune "Sssh," composed for Wayne Shorter, was a ballad showcase for Tineke Postma's all-embracing tenor sax. Trumpeter Jason Hunter and saxophonist Postma deftly navigated Carrington's swirling set, firing the sensory imagination above Rushen's glowing keyboard pads and Allen's grand piano glissandi.

 
  Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington

"We were disappointed to have to cancel some concerts due to the weather," said festival producer Lawrence Simpson, "but there may have been a silver lining in those ominous clouds. Next year's event will contain some weather-proof elements and bring even more excitement to the festival."

Fred Bouchard is a freelance journalist and a Berklee faculty member.