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.

Record Scores – 8/2-8/4/13

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I bought a few records this past weekend.  62 to be exact. I ended up with the Yusef Lateef record shown above, Lost In Sound, from 1961 on Charlie Parker Records.  I’ve never seen this before.  I can go either way on Lateef’s albums over the years, but I like this one. He’s playing tenor sax throughout in a more straight ahead hard bop style.  No flute.  No vocals.  I dig it.

I also picked up John Scofield‘s Who’s Who from 1979 on the Arista label.  Being a huge fan of Scofield’s work from 1998’s A Go Go (Verve) on, I always make sure to check out his older LP’s when I see them at Jerry’s.  Honestly, most times I can’t really get into them since most of them are pretty heavy on the 80’s fusion-y synthesizer jazz vibe, but I like this one so I bought it.  Plus it was only 4 bucks.  Here’s the title track.  It has a funky 70’s Herbie Hancock type groove.

Some other highlights include a bunch of sealed and/or really clean early R&B, blues, and oldies LP’s and Captain Beefheart‘s first album, Safe As Milk.

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John Scofield feat. Medeski, Martin and Wood – “Chank”

I was thinking about John Scofield‘s A Go Go album today. I can’t remember what brought it to mind. But I thought about the impact that this album had on me and music in general at it’s release in 1998.

At the time, Medeski Martin and Wood had recently gained some exposure within the “jamband” community. A friend of mine from back home put a sampler CD on at a party or something and said that somebody was handing them out for free at a Phish show. The disc contained a few tunes from A Go Go and it blew me away. It was an incredible marketing strategy by Verve or Scofield or whoever decided to give these away for free. I was in college in Pittsburgh at the time, and I went out and bought A Go Go right away. Years later, I read an interview with Alan Evans of Soulive saying that this album was his primary inspiration for forming Soulive with his brother Neal and Eric Krasno.

This album was HUGE for me and my circle of friends and peers. It opened the door to SO much music including MMW, Grant Green, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, Soulive, Galactic, Greyboy Allstars, DJ Logic, Charlie Hunter, etc. etc. etc……..

It’s nice to find videos online that predate the camera phone revolution. This video is a live version of “Chank” from 1997.