Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Festivities Continue

The great weekends of jazz continued last night with a trip to the North Texas Jazz Festival in Addison, where the headliners were the Roy Hargrove Quintet and the Yellowjackets (featuring Bob Mintzer). As expected, the music was amazing.

Hargrove's group opening the evening (after performances from the selected college vocal jazz, combo and big bands of the day, which we didn't get to hear, save for a snippet of the big band). Although he's been doing a lot of work with his R&B/hip-hop group, the RH Factor, lately, he's by no means abandoning his straight-ahead work, as this performance proved beyond a doubt. Though his sidemen (especially altoist Justin Robinson and pianist Gerald Clayton) were given a lot of the spotlight, Hargrove shone as brightly as he did a year ago when I saw him with Directions in Music.

The group played cohesively throughout the hourlong-plus set, as they careened between various styles, sometimes within the same tune. Highlights included "Camaraderie" from their upcoming CD (which drops next month), the gospel-tinged "Trust" and a rollicking version of Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning." The group also did a heartfelt tribute to the great Jackie McLean (who, I was saddened to find out, died the day before) with a reworking of his composition "Melody for Melonae." The nearly-full house gave the group a well-deserved standing ovation at the end; the pride of Dallas' Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet had a magnificent homecoming this weekend. I'm definitely getting that CD when it comes out in May.

After a brief intermission, the Yellowjackets took the stage. As I've said before, they may be known as a fusion group, but I call it "fusion with integrity" (i.e. not over-relying on electronics, and having a strong underpinning of improvisation and interplay). Of course, for me, the presence of Mintzer alone is enough to get me to the show, and there's no doubt that he has taken the group in a more straight-ahead direction since he joined them in 1990. But his cohorts (Russ Ferrante on piano and keyboards, Jimmy Haslip on bass, and Marcus Baylor on drums) are also very fine musicians who play well together, making for one of the most enjoyable experiences in the fusion realm today.

Haslip wasn't on the tour for this show, and they scored a real coup by getting Jimmy Johnson to sub for him. No, I'm not talking about the former Cowboys' coach--this Jimmy has a beard and a ponytail, for one thing--but rather the five-string bass master also known as "Flim" who was part of the first jazz group to appear on a compact disc. I have some of those recordings, so it was thrilling to hear those monster chops in person.

The group played quite a few of its favorites, including Mintzer's "Runferyerlife," the collaborative "Evening News" and the obligatory closer, "Revelation," a tuneful gospel shuffle penned by Ferrante. It's too bad that a lot of the crowd didn't stay for the whole set (granted, there were a lot of school kids in attendance, and the show ended close to midnight), but those of us who did were treated to some exemplary musicianship. The band turns 25 years old this year (to be celebrated with a live CD/DVD set in May, as I learned in New Orleans a few weeks ago), and Mintzer noted that "we're just getting started."

For three Saturdays in a row now, I've been at some sort of jazz festival. How cool is that?

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