Jazz Live International Festival 2017 – Pittsburgh, PA

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This year’s edition of Pittsburgh’s annual Jazz Live International Festival happened last weekend.  There were actually a few people I wanted to check out once again this year and even though I missed Roy Ayers, which was a huge letdown, I did manage to make it down to see a few things on Sunday.  Last year, I decided that the best way for me to cover my experience at Jazz Fest is to make sort of a list of thoughts/comments/observations in no particular order.  Here we go…

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Chico Freeman‘s set was good, but it was more traditional than I expected.  I’m not sure why I expected a more adventurous set of tunes. Maybe it was because I knew Freeman had recorded some records in the late 70’s?  Unfortunately, during his set, the heat was a distraction. It was HOT! People were pretty much crowded within any shady area that could be found.  Half of those people found a good use for their program brochure and fanned themselves through the entire performance.  I always hate it when the first thing that comes to mind regarding a musical performance was something completely unrelated to the music. But sometimes it’s just hard to ignore. But his set was cool.  I love the vibraphone and Warren Wolf sounded great.

The Bad Plus were really good.  This was my first time seeing these guys. I don’t always like piano trios, but sometimes the format can really be put to great use.  I dug their intensity and sense of humor. Also, I may have just gotten accustomed to the heat by that point because it seemed to be not as much of an issue.

Tia Fuller was a pleasant surprise.  After a surprisingly quick tear down and setup, her set followed The Bad Plus’s on the same stage.  I honestly had no idea who she was and would have guessed she was a vocalist based on my knowledge of the past booking tendencies of this festival.  Shame on me.  Tia is a incredible saxophonist who led her quartet through a wide variety of material.  Despite (or maybe partly due to?) the heavy rain during her set, I really enjoyed it. It was a nice soundtrack for watching my daughter and a friend splash around in the puddles. And I really do love musical surprises so this was a nice treat.

• After a short trip home, I was able to make it back downtown for Hudson’s set.  Hudson is a “super group” quartet made up of John Scofield on guitar, John Medeski on keys, bassist Larry Grenadier, and legendary drummer Jack DeJohnette.  The set, just like their new self-titled album, was full of interpretations of classic rock tunes.  While most were instrumental, a few featured a verse or two by DeJohnette.  These guys seemed to be having alot of fun with this material.  It seemed fairly loose and unrehearsed which, to me, is an ideal scenario for audience to experience a group of players like this. Highlights include The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek”, a beautiful take on Hendrix’s “Castles Made of Sand” (video above), and a perfectly timed “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which came, you guessed it, right as the rain moved back in to soak the audience.  The crowd for this set, which seemed slightly younger and more on the “jam band” side of the jazz world, was having a great time at this.  So much so that when the band finished at about 8:25, nobody (myself included) wanted to leave.  John Medeski had to come back on stage and say something like, “We’d love to play for you all night! But there is a curfew and we have to go. Good night!”

• As I’ve been saying for several years now, this festival could use some more variety. It’s hard to complain about a festival that is totally free without sounding like an asshole. But…….”Jazz” is a really loose term and a wide variety of music falls under it’s umbrella.  I feel as though this festival is still geared toward an older audience.  It’s hard to tell if the audience that shows up to these year -after-year are older BECAUSE of the music on display or if the acts brought in are catering to an predetermined/anticipated older audience?

• One of these years, I’m going to literally attend the entirety of one of these festivals.  Like really do it right with the fold-up chair, maybe a cooler full of beer & water, and just see every single act…even ones that I don’t particularly enjoy. Someday.

• For another (and much more in depth and well written!) report on the festival, be sure to check out Mike Shanley’s blog.  I ran into Mike during the aforementioned sweltering Chico Freeman set. He was there earlier than me and caught some things that I missed.

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One thought on “Jazz Live International Festival 2017 – Pittsburgh, PA

  1. Festival Offers Variety to Music Fans

    The Pittsburgh Jazzlive International Festival 2017 was a reflection on variety that offered African / Latin rhythms and Funk in addition to Avant-Garde, Traditional and Contemporary Jazz. Gone are the days of just Jazz focused presentations not only here in Pittsburgh but around the country. That being said, here is a view of the acts I caught while in attendance.

    Friday evening was the Jazz Crawl that featured locally based musicians at Downtown Pittsburgh venues. Eric Johnson is known on the national and international Jazz stage. His recordings and live performers are reminiscent of those artists that some of us witnessed at places like the Crawford Grill and other stops on the “Chitlin Circuit” in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It was pure entertainment abound as Eric and his group went through Jazz and Contemporary favorites such as “In A Mellotone”, “Take the A Train”, “Mercy,Mercy” and “Betcha By Golly Wow” in their slot from 5:30 – 9pm. Eric was joined for the set this evening with his fellow musician’s drummer Mike Finch and bassist Dan Wasson. When not performing here on the Pittsburgh scene Eric tours on the road with the ageless Lou Donaldson. The Eric Johnson Trio was a great start on a humid Friday evening at Le Lyonaise with a refreshing beverage and some fabulous smooth sounds. Eric’s site is: http://www.fabalousej.com/.

    While many were preparing for the David Sanborn show with a pre-party at the August Wilson Center, some of us were partying at the 9thStreet stage with the amazing DJ SMI. One of the co-owners of the legendary Shadow Lounge, SMI was the first spin master to incorporate African rhythms in his sets here locally. In his Afro Heat presentation on Friday folks witnessed why he has become so popular with those infectious sounds. Fela and Femi Kuti, Manu Dibango, Tony Allen and many others music were included in the mix. Many of the area DJ’s including myself were given shout outs from the mix master. This awesome set should have been promoted more by the Festival or perhaps there could have been a street party on Liberty Avenue before the Angelique Kidjo show on Saturday. Now traveling worldwide, be sure to check out DJ SMI through his site at: https://www.facebook.com/smi.swigart and on Instagram.

    Philadelphia native Odean Pope is known for his long association with Max Roach as a member of the late Jazz drummer’s quartet. He was also a member of the Jimmy McGriff band and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Schooled and mentored by pianist Ray Bryant, also from Philadelphia, Mr. Pope has a long relationship with the Philadelphia Clef Club mentoring and teaching young people. Founded in 1977, The Odean Pope Saxophone Choir is an amazing wall of sound that has wowed audiences with their live performances. The makeup of the group for this performance at the festival included 6 saxophones, piano, bass, and drums. Standout tunes performed during the set included Pope written and arranged “Bananas Foster”, “Epitome”, “Prince Lasha” and the beautiful “Central Park West” written by John Coltrane. Each member of the group had a solo in all the songs performed. Pope is not shy about sharing the stage with his musicians as we witnessed some incredible solos from Joe Sudler, Lewis Taylor, Terry Brown, and Craig McIver in addition to the rest of the band members. For more on Odean Pope check him out on YouTube and at: http://www.odeanpope.com/about/odean-pope/.

    Jon Hendricks describes Jazzmeia Horn as “One of the best voices I’ve heard in over 40 years”. 2017 marks this phenomenal singer 2nd visit to the Pittsburgh Jazzlive International Festival and I’m so sorry I missed her first appearance. Jazzmeia started her set on Saturday afternoon doing the song “Tight” penned by Jazz vocalist Betty “Bebop” Carter. Excuse my expression but from that point, “It was on”. Her set was awesome. Even though Sarah Vaughn has influenced her vocal style as well as Eddie Jefferson and other scat singers, I swear she was channeling Betty Carter. You don’t hear many singers brave enough to scat (And do a good job at it) in this current Jazz landscape. On her next tune, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, Ms. Horn floated over and through the notes with the piano, bass, and drum accompaniment. Next, there was a tribute to the Juneteenth celebration as she asked the audience to stand while doing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Moanin” in a medley. Other tunes in her set included the classic “I Remember You” and an outstanding rendition of “Afro Blue” / “Wade in the Water” which reflected on the social state of African Americans and African American males. Currently at the top spot on the Billboard charts, this 26year old is wise beyond her years and a fixture on the Jazz landscape for years to come. Believe me, I won’t miss her ever again!!
    For more on Jazzmeia Horn go to: https://www.theartistryofjazzhorn.com/about.
    A big thanks to the folks at the Cultural Trust for putting together the Festival again and be sure you support the event however you can in the future at: pittsburghjazzlive.com/support/jazzlive-friends

    Kevin Amos

    Kevin Amos is the Host / Producer of “Jazz Corner with Kevin Amos” and “One to One with Kevin Amos” at http://www.wrct.org
    He is also the founder of the Black Music Education Project : http://bit.ly/2rKhH9E

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