BeanTown Festival 2012: Women In Jazz

October 18, 2012
Ingrid Jensen '89
Paula Cole '90
Faculty member Kevin Barry accompanies Paula Cole.
Hailey Niswanger '11
A scene from the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival.
Lalah Hathaway '94
Tia Fuller
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson
Photo by Kelly Davidson

Talented women musicians led the way at the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival last month. Saxophone players Tia Fuller, Lihi HaruviErena Terakubo, and Hailey Niswanger wailed. Pianos soared at the hands of Geri Allen, Joanne BrackeenHey Rim Jeon, Helen Sung, and Caili O’Doherty. Musical director Terri Lyne Carrington’s Grammy-winning Mosaic Project ensemble spurred the big day, featuring singers Lizz Wright, Lalah Hathaway, and Paula Cole. Vocal groups Women of the World and the Neo-Soul Ensemble had their hour, and solo singers Aubrey Johnson and Lydia Liebman shared front lines.

The BeanTown Jazz Festival was full of phenomenal sounds and tastes, from straight-ahead jazz to hard-driving soul and from hot dogs, burgers, and fried dough to Indian, Mexican, Jamaican, and Brazilian dishes. Food stalls from far and wide, primarily from around the Caribbean and Asia, reflected the diversity of the crowd and the music. As the good folks of Boston (and beyond) stoked their spirits with terrific bands, food vendors provided the fuel via La Autentica’s arepas and turkey legs; Norma’s Puerto Rican rice, Jamaican jerk chicken and pork, Bukhara’s Indian curry, pad thai, tacos, and Darryl Settles’s soul food.

Sunday’s capper paired Béla Fleck with Marcus Roberts. “Their combination of jazz and bluegrass is breathtaking, refreshing, and remarkably unique,” remarked Brett Frey.—Fred Bouchard and Tyler Hicks

Jason Palmer and Willy Rodriguez Group
With no ray of sun in sight, BeanTown opened with a famed tradition: Wally’s Jazz Showcase. One of the first bands to take the stage was the Jason Palmer and Willy Rodriguez group. The unfortunate weather of cold winds and grey skies resulted in a not-so-great turn out, but they still brought tons of fire. Consisting of all younger musicians, the quintet played mostly originals in a modern bop idiom, and delivered a sound and energy that was reminiscent of the 1960s Blue Note years. Their mellow Latin grooves matched the overcast sky. The mature group of 20-something guys played original tunes, and invited Lydia Liebman to sing a few with them, her clear, straight tone cutting over the band hauntingly. Palmer was agile and smooth as he ranged up and down his trumpet. Christian Li showed both chops and spirit in his piano solos. Tenor player Mario Castro stood out with his fiery solos and original composition “Pillars.” It depicts the pillars we build in front of us in life and how they get in our way. Mid-set, Palmer thanked us for coming out and said, “Now more than ever it is important to support live music!” How perfect to have seasoned musicians play and remind us what the festival is all about.—Nikole Luebbe and Andrew Kushnir

Lihi Haruvi and Caili O’Doherty
Lihi Haruvi and Caili O’Doherty led a classy but burning undergraduate band with violin, bass, drums, and congas. Their alert set of serenity-infused jazz was made up of angular post-bop originals spiced with odd textures, arresting stop-times, heated exchanges between Cory Cox’s rimshots and Sergio Martinez’s Latin-tinged congas. O'Doherty could have been mistaken for a vocalist, with a soft yet strong sound. Haruvi’s mystical saxophone melodies pulled the listeners in closer with anticipation of what was to follow. Haruvi and violinist Alex Hargreaves played tear-inducing harmonies. What made the tune “Possibility” especially memorable was its bass and violin intro, up-tempo Latin lines, and spiky alto and violin duet. It was hard to leave.—Victoria Martinez and Fred Bouchard

Neo-Soul Ensemble
The Neo-Soul Ensemble members are tied to one another with invisible threads, which allow them to feel, move, think, and play as one entity. Rhythm players Lauren Fuller (keys), Gizmo (bass), Jake Sherman (organ), Jonathan Newman (drums), and Dylan Day (guitar) create the perfect pocket for each of the three vocalists to fill with soulful three-part harmonies. Since the theme of this year’s festival is women in jazz, I feel the need to discuss the immense talent of the women in this group. Fuller sways behind the piano with the love for performing streaming from her fingertips through the sound system and into our ears. This cat is overflowing with cool. Pairing the intensity of Jill Scott and the hip essence of Erykah Badu, Jazmin McCray is the epitome of power. As a front woman, she demands the crowd’s attention and doesn’t lose it for a second. —Nikole Luebbe

Hey Rim Jeon Trio and Special Guest Greg Hopkins, Robin Eubanks, and Oori
What do you get when you join forces between a jazz band and a Korean percussion ensemble? Something different for sure, but the energy of the two together brings you a new, yet still familiar sound. From the start, it was beautiful to hear Greg Hopkins ride his smooth trumpet melodies over the airy progressions of pianist and leader Hey Rim Jeon. With Oori (four Korean drummers from MIT dressed in traditional gilt garb) keeping the rhythm tight and complex, the music took your mind off the cold, cloudy day. It was nice to hear the familiar “Freedom Jazz Dance” in a fresh arrangement that fused genres. But the most captivating moments were when the band played Jeon’s original compositions. Her modal choices and writing style was unique on its own, but the way the arrangements complimented the instrumentation made it a show that stood out among the many great acts that day.—Steve Pagano

Paula Cole
Singer, songwriter, and producer Paula Cole '90 has one of the most prominent voices around, leading to chart-topping singles such as “Where Have All Cowboys Gone?” and “I Don’t Want to Wait.” Cole's voice has to be heard live to be believed—the tone she projects as she sings is flawless. Her set was a wonderfully intimate show for a woman who certainly gives her all in a live performance. Cole's set—jazzy in surprising ways, folky in others—included high points like guitarist Kevin Barry’s bluesy solo work and drummer Ben Whitman’s grooving conga beat in “I Believe in Love.” —Michel’le Baptiste and Robbie Simmons

Hailey Niswanger Quartet
The Hailey Niswanger Quartet, led by an alto saxophonist who graduated from Berklee 2011, was a show not only to hear, but to see as well. Niswanger's “Straight Up,” a no-bull, straight-ahead jazz tune, indicates that she means business. She commands the stage with her big saxophone lines that, while full of technical difficulty, are still tasteful and lyrical. Her band is sleek and sure, with Joe Dyson on drums, Max Moran on bass, and Takeshi Ohbayashi on piano. Niswanger’s closer—a 12-foot complex chart called “The Keeper”—showed her Mark Turner-like glancing, Chris Potter-like power build-up, and a solo with strong lyric streaks.—Tyler Hicks and Fred Bouchard

Erena Terakubo Quartet
Alto saxophonist Erena Terakubo of Japan, a presidential scholar at Berklee College of Music, led her band in an exacting set on the Berklee stage. She reworked bop standards—“Move” (Denzil Best), “Never Say Yes” (Cannonball Adderley) and “Blue Daniel” (Frank Rosolino)— with a clipped, tight attack. Then she counted off a fast original with patterned arpeggios that featured a solid piano spot from Davis Whitfield. Terakubo plays the saxophone with true mastery, and at such a young age she’s an oncoming virtuoso.—Tyler Hicks and Fred Bouchard

Lalah Hathaway
So lives on the glory of Donny Hathaway through his talented daughter, Lalah Hathaway '90. Despite the threat of inclement weather, she pulled off a stunning and entertaining performance. Hathaway opened with “Cherish the Day,” a hypnotically smooth jam featured on Robert Glasper’s latest album, Black Radio. Another notable tune was her rendition of “Summertime,” which was not only blessed with stunning solos from three backup singers, but also included an ad-lib line Hathaway threw in about Boston’s weather “not being very ‘summertime.’” But with Hathaway’s killer vocals and energetic stage presence, it’s hard to say that it didn’t feel a little sunny. —Reilly Garrett

Watch a clip from Hathaway's performance at Berklee Beantown Jazz Festival: 


Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project
Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project epitomized this year’s BeanTown theme of women in jazz. With a mostly female roster, the Mosaic Project far outplayed any other group at the festival. The band not only played tracks from its Grammy-winning album, but also featured its members’ compositions. On TLC’s "Transformation” she had everybody in the band do a solo, from saxophonist Tia Fuller, to keyboardist Geri Allen, to the pianist Helen Sung. Fuller's soaring hip-hop version of “Body and Soul” showed how years of playing with Beyoncé has given her a stunning groove. The Mosaic Project also featured guest vocalists Lizz Wright, Paula Cole, and Lalah Hathaway. Wright’s deep silky voice definitely stole the show on the gospel track “Walk With Me, Lord.” —Andrew Kushnir and Michel’le Baptiste

Ralph Peterson Sextet
Ralph Peterson’s sextet was one of the final bands at the festival, and they were well worth the wait. The former Jazz Messenger brought to the band the powerful drive of his mentor, Art Blakey. The strong front line of Tia Fuller (alto saxophone), Darren Barrett (trumpet), and Eddie Bayard (tenor saxophone) sailed cleanly through a repertoire of raucous originals from Peterson's new CD The Duality Perspective. Peterson has a tremendous amount of fun behind the kit, playing so dramatically that, despite his excellent band, he kept the drums at the focus of the set. His facial expressions and body language give off the love vibe that strikes keen rapport with the audience. His charts make this sextet sound and feel like a big band. Reed whiz Fuller came straight from her duties in the Mosaic set and played relentlessly, showing no sign of any fatigue. Luques Curtis’s sinuous bass enticingly led in “Impervious Gems,” drummer Jonathan Pinson’s tune, arranged somewhere between Latin and swing. Despite a lack of visual cues, the group stuck together like glue, and gave a fun and exciting performance to close out the day. —Robbie Simmons and Andrew Kushnir

Bloco AfroBrazil’s Street Samba
It’d be hard for anyone at BeanTown ‘12 to say they didn’t hear the AfroBrazil drum group. The group is based out of Boston, but when listening to them perform, you could swear that you were in the heart of Rio. Led by drummer Marcus Santos, this 12-piece percussion ensemble is more of a mobile party than a music group. But their complex drumming patterns and synchronized call-and-response sessions prove that, when it comes to rhythm, this group isn’t messing around. If you weren’t dancing, you’re probably dead.—Reilly Garrett

Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio
Sunday night at the Berklee Performance Center, jazz met bluegrass—and they got along just fine. Béla Fleck and his renowned banjo-picking finesse melded with the jazz stylings of the Marcus Roberts Trio to put jazz in a whole new light. Although the instrument is almost exclusively associated with bluegrass and folk, Fleck’s own banjo is known for having no musical limits. The deep, virtuosic jazz of the Marcus Roberts Trio offers no exception. Roberts, once seated behind the piano, never loses his life-blood attachment to the instrument. The trio’s bassist, Rodney “Swing” Jordan, holds true to his namesake by embodying the sound he produces on stage—manipulating his instrument as if it were his own body. Drummer Jason Marsalis commands the thriving rhythm of the trio. Marsalis sits behind his kit, constantly moving. His head keeps up a perpetual groove with the ensemble throughout; the man even drinks his water in time. Originals from the group’s new album Across the Imaginary Divide demonstrated digressive solos and conversations between instrumentals, pushing known boundaries of the jazz world. “Let’s Go,” which Roberts claimed he wrote “when I was in a hurry,” displayed the fastest single-hand piano octaves to grace the Berklee Performance Center stage. Even Fleck, the bluegrass aficionado, gave an exasperated look after his own solo in the piece. The set wrapped up with an encore from the group playing “Cheeseballs in Cowtown,” an original Flecktones tune the jazz players took into their own style and melded seamlessly.—Robert Edens


About this Article:

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 above.—Fred Bouchard, associate professor, Liberal Arts