BeanTown Festival 2011: Jazz, Funk, Rap, and Beyond
Yellow maracas chattered as music fans did a rain dance in the Natixis Family Park late Saturday morning of Beantown #11. That gesture evidently appeased the rain gods: BeanTown's precipitation-free day rolled along Columbus Avenue, noon to six, under cloudy, then sunny skies, as 17 bands made happy music for the community.
Berklee's gift to Boston—directed for the third year by drummer Teri Lynn Carrington—began with a ticketed concert the night before, as James Farm offered flexible originals in jittery, bobble-head rhythms, served up with panache. The youthful foursome read from a new book, airing less jazz and blues than folk and pop, delivered with swaggering chops. Joshua Redman, the standout improviser in this leaderless cooperative, blew tenor with robust conviction.
At the free outdoor festival, dangerous tango led the way at the Berklee Stage as Pablo Ablanedo '96 aired his octet's potent front line of Fernando Brandao's flute (soaring on "Alegria"), Daniel Ian Smith and Kelly Roberge on tenors, and Phil Grenadier's trumpet. Bassist Fernando Huergo and drummer Franco Pinna powered emphatic rhythms and vertical accents under the solid melodies.
Teen rapper Young Fresh fronted the Music Clubhouse Youth Showcase on sponsor Natixis's big family park stage, leading six singers in rehearsed choral rap with good-natured energy and attitude on "Swag" and "Because of You," a rappin' thank-you-all.
Berklee Global Jazz Institute's exemplary student sextet tore it up, featuring mostly new faces, along with two veteran student players—saxophonist Tom Wilson and drummer Isaac Hazelkorn—who were showcased at the Jazz Education Network conference last January in New Orleans. These solid boppers write and blow with fresh structural and rhythmic twists.
Drummer Louis Hayes, wearing his years lightly, saluted his ex-boss, alto giant Cannonball Adderley. His hard-hitting quartet, with Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, covered bop classics "Del Sasser" and "The Chant" with authority and pizzazz.
Shea Rose '11 pranced through her hip-hop pop with sass, closing with a slinky reggae turn on the Cranberries' "Zombie."
Laced throughout were street bands from New Orleans (traditional jazz band) and Salvador, Brazil. While the Dixie musicians held forth from their tent with tasty turns on "Georgia," "Saints," and "Basin Street," the 40-strong Bloco AfroBrazil drum ensemble roamed, tearing up the tarmac with in-your-feet carnival street beats: samba, baião, galope, samba rag, maracatú, '6/8', frevo. When we could stand no more, we samba-ed right along. Attitude, with magnitude.
Rajdulari '01 and her Jazz Project delivered a knockout show with nods to her well-schooled crew, including backup singers, saxophonist, and trumpeter. The gracious singer showered thanks on BeanTown founder, restaurateur Darryl Settles, then smoothly fused "Footprints" with "Afro-Blue."
Bernie Worrell's SociaLybrium unleashed the P-Funk keyboardist's electric jungle magic to a 6-to-60, growing as the day cleared. The brightly-dressed Worrell noodled his Arp and Kurzweil to max effect, over Melvin Gibbs's growly bass and Ronnie Drayton's buzzsaw guitar. Then Worrell hung in to help Lenny Stallworth's Parliament-Funkadelic student ensemble weave "woo!" wizardry over the clap-along, sing-along, dance-along crowd.
In their Cello/Piano Project, Eugene Friesen and Tim Ray blended freely improvised fantasias using folk themes, classical rondo, jazz gestures, samba (Jobim's "Zingaro"), and world music (cello mimicking African mbira), resulting in a triumph of artful focus.
Jazz Urbane, Bill Banfield's sweet soul-jazz-meets-R&B ensemble—fronted by lead singers Annette Philip and Joey Blake—dovetailed smoothly soaring vocals with a driving ensemble. The well-oiled back-up band featured the questing alto saxophone of student guest Grace Kelly and the leader's stinging guitar.
Rafael Zaldivar tackles the unexpected: the Cuban-born, Montreal-based piano wizard carves creative spaces where you least expect them: edgy ostinatos, off-kilter lines, tinkles vs. drones, sudden trills, strangely harmonized lines, mid-air glissandos. He may be listening to contemporary masters—like Danilo Perez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Luis Perdomo—but he's doing his own thing with a sympathetic Montreal rhythm team.
Multi-threat performer Andrea Capozzoli sang her own songs, played keyboards and trumpet, and worked the audience with relaxed geniality.
Jeff Ramsey and Darcel Wilson shared a sweet soul set as the sun emerged and blue shone through. Their agile voices and lively stage moves carried the crowd to "Want to Take It Higher" and "I'll Do Anything."
Drummer Neal Smith assembled a stellar quintet of New York mainstreamers to blaze through jazz standards and originals. On the stand and mixing nicely were vibist Steve Nelson, pianist Eric Reed, alto saxist Andy Beals, and bassist David Williams.
Oleta Adams made the sky her cathedral as she immersed her elegant soprano in sassy rollicking singalongs, sailed along on various textured grooves (like bass solo over shimmering strings), and engaged her gospel chorale in impassioned calls and responses.
Which band took it all home? Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project. At his cool marimba and hot vibes, Samuels called killin' mambo and chillin' bolero, traded solos with Alain Mallet's piano, switched meters on "Stolen Moments," and let the limber team—Oscar Stagnaro, bass, Mark Walker, drums—burn up off-kilter rhythms. Finally, Roberto Quintero's chittering maracas placed a hushed blessing on the weather, and the weekend.
Gary Burton last appeared at his alma mater in April, celebrating his golden anniversary at Berklee, including phases as student, teacher, dean, executive vice president, and honorary doctorate recipient. The Grammy-winning vibraphone maestro returned to close the festival at the BPC with his ebullient new quartet. Two vets (Burton and bassist Scott Colley) and two youngsters (drummer Antonio Sanchez '97 and guitarist Julian Lage '10) split a front line that scintillated with bright melody, and a rhythm section that loomed resolute and dark, even spooky. The four mixed originals (Lage's delirious "Etude") with standards ("I Hear a Rhapsody") and surprises (a chill Monk's "Light Blue").
Beantown Supplement: Student Reviews
Music Journalism is a course I've been teaching at Berklee since 2001. Students were invited to write short reviews of individual sets or concerts of this year's BeanTown festivities, and some of their responses—self-edited, peer-edited, and/or prof-edited—are appended below.
—Fred Bouchard, associate professor, Liberal Arts
Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project, Berklee Stage
The smell of cigars and Jamaican jerk chicken are wonderfully apropos as Bostonians gather for Dave Samuels and the Caribbean Jazz Project. Their lively Afro-Cuban jazz gets the crowd moving as they close out Saturday at the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival. Samuels leads the band, playing his arrangements of jazz standards such as "Stolen Moments" and "Bemsha Swing." He shows his dominance of the mallet instruments early on, soloing over odd meters, while quoting licks from other recognizable standards. In one tune, nearing the end of the set, Samuels plays between his vibraphone and electric marimba, pairing the two tones in a one-man dialog.
But the real gem is the rhythm section. Mark Walker on drums and Roberto Quintero on congas show a true rhythmic connection as they seamlessly transition from one mindboggling groove to the next. Oscar Stagnaro, on bass, lays a driving foundation as Walker and Quintero sit back and draw out each backbeat, adding an illusion of relaxed feel to a frantic 7/4 pattern. Samuels and pianist Dario Eskenazi, trading solos, soon turn to an improvised duet, with quotes from "Peter and the Wolf," "Salt Peanuts," and "YYZ" (of all things!).
As the crowd gets restless, aching for a sign of a downbeat, Samuels glances at the band and the five exit the solo section with an elaborate bit of arranging, and like that (snap!), it's a party. Eskenazi is laying down a sexy montuno and the crowd is clapping and yelling, as if to say "That's just what I needed!" The crowd moves from a self conscious, toe-tapping huddle, into a lively sway, peppered with those who really get into it. Kids and adults alike shake toy maracas with the beat to the enjoyment of Quintero, who responds with a wide smile and a [torrent] on his own maracas. After a healthy chunk of grooving, Samuels once again motions to the band, and all five players catch an assortment of syncopated hits and end just as you'd expect: tight!
—Andrew Libenson '13 (drums)
The Jazz Urbane featuring Joey Blake, BeanTown Stage
Around 2:15 I rounded the corner of Mass. Ave. onto Columbus and was immediately swept into the festival's atmosphere by Annette Philips's voice. She is one of the vocalists in the Jazz Urbane featuring Joey Blake. The ensemble was fun to watch and even more fun to listen to. In addition to director Bill Banfield's amazing guitar solos were some truly talented singers, and Sharin Toribio's song in particular really caught my ear. Her warm tone brought a fresh, new spin on funk music. Lastly, the set was closed with Joey Blake's original piece "Downtown in Your Mind," but what really caught the audience was his rapping—and special guest Grace Kelly's fabulous saxophone playing, of course! His true words sat knowingly with the crowd, leaving them feeling completely fulfilled as they echoed in call-and-response.
Andrea Capozzoli, BeanTown Stage
With a soulful band behind her, Andrea Capozzoli won over the hearts of her audience members the minute she opened her mouth to sing. And while the chords (being played on a Nord) glided smoothly under her original song "Don't Know Why, But I Still Love You," everyone began to groove. As Capozzoli's promoter handed out free-download cards, the listeners seemed to really be getting into the show. But, as if that wasn't enough, she wowed her audience over and over again by pulling out a trumpet, throwing a mute on it, and playing some smooth solos. And even as I retreated from the stage, being played out by that beautifully funky jazz, I couldn't help but overhear the rapidly growing crowd making its way to the packed stage raving, "She's playing trumpet too?! No way!" and "Who is that? She's awesome!"
—Julia LiGregni '13 (voice)
Shea Rose, Natixis Stage
Shea Rose and her band played mostly original songs with a cover song to finish out the set. Her original songs were a wide variety of styles ranging from hip-hop to classic rock to R&B to neo-soul. She sang sassy and confident lyrics and had the presence and personality of James Brown between songs. If Rage Against the Machine and the Roots ever combined forces—with Aretha Franklin as their front woman—you would get Shea Rose. Although the cover of the Cranberries' "Zombie" wasn't the strongest song of her set, Rose was still able to capture the crowd and get it warmed up for the acts to follow.
Bernie Worrell, Natixis Stage
For those of you who don't know, Bernie Worrell is a legendary synth/keyboardist who has played with the likes of Parliament-Funkadelic and the Talking Heads, to name a few, and is one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop (Dr. Dre, NWA, Snoop Dogg, etc.). His band, SociaLybrium, is composed of Worrell on keys, along with a bassist, guitarist, and drummer. The songs were mostly instrumental jams: funky, rockin' at some points, and completely soulful. The one song that caught my attention was a pseudo-reggae jam the band did toward the middle of the set. Worrell played a melodica solo/melody at the beginning followed by stellar solos on guitar and different synth keyboards.
—Vinny Mott '12 (drums)
I stayed at the Natixis stage to catch Bernie Worrell play with the massive Berklee P-Funk ensemble. Instead a trio now, the stage was filled. The ensemble had a horn section, two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and many vocalists. It sounded huge. Seeing both generations jam away to classic songs was a pleasure. The Berklee kids played with a lot of energy and lived up to the funky greatness of early P-Funk recording. Worrell looked sincerely appreciative, hugging everyone on stage. Every person in the ensemble looked thrilled to be playing. After Worrell left the stage, the band made its way through even more P-Funk hits and the crowd's energy grew more and more. We want the funk!
—John Anderson '14 (guitar)