by E. Joyce Glasgow -
SGN A&E Writer
Earshot Jazz Festival
October 15-November 7
In January 2010, Seattle's Earshot Jazz was one of this year's recipients of the ASCAP/CMA Adventurous Programming Awards, presented at the annual Chamber Music America Conference in New York City. Earshot was one of nine national winners in different categories, and won for Large Presenter/Festival Jazz. In keeping with that distinction, Earshot once again presented adventurous and diverse programming in this year's jazz festival across genres, including world music, poetry, chamber strings, DJs, multi-media, rap, experimental, blues, gospel, folk/cowboy/bluegrass, and films, all under the jazz umbrella.
I was pleased to see a lot more women musicians then in the past both instrumentalists and vocalists leading their own ensembles in this year's festival. A lot more local Seattle (and former local) musicians were celebrating new CD releases during the festival also, including Randy Halberstadt, Bill Anschell, Jay Clayton, Rich Cole, and Dave Peck.
Robert Pinsky with Marc Seales and Paul Gabrielson
The 2010 Earshot Jazz Festival got off to auspicious beginnings with the elegant and welcome blending of poetry and jazz. Three-term United States Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky joined forces with Seattle jazz musicians Marc Seales (piano) and Paul Gabrielson (acoustic bass) in a sold-out performance co-sponsored with Seattle Arts and Lectures (www.lectures.org) at the 540-seat Nordstrom Recital Hall.
Pinsky seemed to be really reveling in the opportunity to interpret his poetry to jazz. He loves jazz and played the saxophone as a teenager and dreamed of becoming a jazz musician. Seales and Gabrielson were a great match, sensitively and playfully interacting with Pinsky, creating musical moods on the spot to showcase Pinsky's words.
During the performance, the energy ebbed and flowed gracefully, with some particularly magical moments when the music and poetic rhythms blended just perfectly. It was particularly intriguing when Pinsky presented one of his poems, first reading it as he said he would usually do in an "academic" setting and then performed it again with the musicians. The amount of life that was breathed into the words and their meanings was amazing, with the richness of music as an integral part of the presentation. While Pinsky didn't go too far out on a limb or take too many risks, keeping it pretty safe in his readings with the music, it was still great to hear one of the country's best-known poets reading his poetry accompanied by jazz as a component of this festival.
Included in the performance were the poems Antique, inspired by Pinsky's parents and their tumultuous relationship; Street Music, about reincarnation; The Hearts, and Ginza Samba, a wonderful poem about the invention of the saxophone by a white European, Adolph Sax, and the instrument's cultural travels through fate and history to become considered today as one of the most iconic instruments of African-American jazz culture.
The Kora Band
Pacific Northwest-based quintet The Kora Band performed on October 15 at Tula's. This band combines the sweet dulcet tones of the West African Kora a historic harp-like instrument made with strings and a large gourd, played here by Kane Mathis with the instruments of American jazz. Chad McCullough (trumpet), Brady Millard-Kish (bass), Andrew Oliver (piano), and Mark DiFlorio (drums). Their music blends traditional African folk melodies and rhythms with the melodies, rhythms and improvisations of jazz very successfully, and the band's music is upbeat, gentle, joyful, bright, clear, and very enjoyable.
The MURAL Trio
I loved the concentrated improvisation of the MURAL Trio, who played at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center on October 16. The music they created was quite shamanic, and took me into a deep, magical space, where time was altered and their hour-long atmospheric set flew by as if only 15 minutes for them as well as me, according to Australian saxophonist/flautist Jim Denley. Denley, along with Norwegian musicians Kim Myhr on acoustic guitar and other stringed instruments and Ingar Zach percussion, live far apart, in Spain, Norway, and Australia, and come together to perform and record on occasion. They were so tuned-in to one another musically and improvisationally that they seemed as though they play together often. Their playing and concentration was meticulous and thoughtful, listening and contributing as a tight, sensitive, and democratic ensemble. They utilized unusual tools for music-making, placing distorting objects (like blocks and tiny whirring fan blades) on strings and on percussion. The saxophone had a strange elastic airway with mouthpiece which went from the saxophone to the player's mouth, allowing him to bend sound while blowing through it and physically manipulating its elasticity. Zach played physically lovely and beautifully sounding ceramic bells with mallets. The MURAL Trio was one of the highlights of the festival for me and the Chapel Performance Space is the perfect venue to hear experimental and other music.
Vagabond Opera rode their colorful gypsy wagon into town from Portland for two shows at the Triple Door on October 16. The band features an unusual configuration of instruments. Vagabond founder and operatic tenor Eric Stern composes, sings, and plays accordion and piano. Robin Jackson sings, composes, and plays tenor saxophone. Jackson is also a member of the fabulous Portland-based March Fourth Marching Band. Mark Burdon plays drums and composes. Skip von Kuske plays cello, composes, and sings, and Ashia Grzesik also plays cello, composes, sings, and dances. At 21, Grzesik was already playing for Cirque du Soleil's production of O in Las Vegas. I particularly love her moving, emotional ballad in Polish, for voice and cello, dedicated to her grandmother. The band is very prolific and always has interesting and strange new original material, and performs catchy and well-chosen non-original songs, such as Kurt Weill's "Alabama Song." The group has developed an eclectic, uniquely hybridized and exotic stylistic gumbo of Klezmer, cabaret, waltz, opera, circus, Bulgarian, Russian, Polish, jazz, burlesque and Weill Threepenny Opera-like gothic steampunkery, along with singing in 13 languages, which has brought them a cadre of loyal fans. Two major fans, dressed in their steampunk finery, came up to the stage from the audience at the end of the late show, where the young man surprised his girlfriend by proposing to her surrounded by their favorite band. Vagabond Opera spiced up their shows at the Triple Door with performances by the lively and agile Seattle-based swing dancers Harlequin Hipsters, colorfully costumed Xander Almeida, the "Doctor of Malarkey," and a finale featuring a cameo appearance by the lovely and graceful Seattle burlesque dancer Lily Verlaine. Verlaine is also the producer of popular Seattle shows Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker and Through the Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice in Wonderland.
James Carter and John Medeski's Heaven on Earth
James Carter and John Medeski's quintet of hot jazz dynamos took no prisoners in their performances at the Triple Door on October 22. Carter, on soprano, tenor, and baritone saxophones, was joined by John Medeski on Hammond B3 organ, Adam Rogers on electric guitar, Lee Pearson on drums, and Ralph Armstrong on acoustic and electric bass. These five virtuosos played fiercely, with great intensity, assertiveness, lightening solos, and explosive ensemble dynamics. They burned through four long tunes for their set. The last two pieces appear on Carter's recent CD, Heaven on Earth. The playing was impressive, but relentless. Carter can be quite a demonstrative showboater sometimes and I wished that the group channeled some of their virtuosity into at least one soft, subtle piece during the performance, using their considerable chops to create an artistic contrast of colors and moods in their presentation and to take my breath away, instead of just leaving me breathless.
Dafnis Prieto Proverb Trio
The Crocodile, as a performance venue, has about as much charm as a teenaged boy's basement den. The volume of the bands playing there during the only Earshot Festival event at the Crocodile, on November 1, was also about the volume you would expect in a teenaged boy's basement den very, very loud. When you combine the inhospitality of having to stand up for almost four hours to hear two bands (because there are no chairs) along with the eardrum-splitting volume, there was no way on earth that I was going to subject myself to that oppressive atmosphere.
Coung Vu's group with Andrew D' Angelo "Agogic" was the opening act. Coung Vu is a great trumpeter and I've liked some of his other musical projects and his work with Pat Metheny, but I found this particular group to be overly loud, emotionally distant, and cacophonous for me, and I lost patience, returning later to check out Dafnis Prieto's Proverb Trio. Prieto, the young, admired Cuban-born drummer from New York, brought his trio project with Jason Lindner on synthesizers/keyboards, and Kokayi, a freestyle rapper and poetry improviser. Perhaps if I could have heard the words, I might have found something interesting about the performance, but of course the volume didn't allow for hearing any words and just sounded like a lot of garbled shouting to a rap/jazz beat. I heard Prieto in New York with cellist Dana Leong playing for Prieto's wife, a dancer, with some other dancers in performance, about five years ago, and enjoyed his playing, but he has struck out for me here in his Seattle appearances, both in his Earshot Jazz performance last year and now again this year. Last year I found his playing overbearing and insensitive to making creative space for the other musicians in his band at his Triple Door gig, and this time around, at the Crocodile, just bombastic and loud.
Less Repeats, Please!
The festival does spotlight new artists each year, but I don't understand why the festival keeps bringing back some of the same artists, repeating over and over again over a short span of years Robert Glasper, Jason Moran, and the above mentioned Dafnis Prieto, for example to fill out the precious, finite spots on the festival schedule. No matter how popular these artists may be, why bring them back when there are so many other great artists with wonderful musical projects who we never get to hear in Seattle? When I hear many of these prominent, virtuosic musicians in performance in New York at festivals and clubs around town, I am always amazed that Earshot, the main jazz organization in the Seattle area, has never invited them to play in Seattle. There are many highly respected, high-profile and innovative musicians certainly worthy of an invitation, and represent some of the best examples of what's on the forefront of jazz, experimental, and world music. The festival does spend money to bring musicians out to Seattle from out of town, so this money could be directed towards bringing artists that may be new to Seattle's ears or artists that listeners admire on recordings but never would have a chance to hear live otherwise, unless they travel to New York or Europe. A couple of prominent examples of possible choices of musicians with intriguing projects are composer/conductor Darcy James Argue and his Secret Society big band. Argue is a trailblazer, composing and arranging dynamic and fresh new compositions for large ensemble. Another great choice is percussionist Adam Rudolph and his Go: Organic Orchestra. Rudolph, who is often heard playing with the incomparable NEA Jazz Master Yusef Lateef, travels with his own octet to cities around the world and does residencies with local musicians, teaching them his unique conducting system, culminating in exciting, original, and unpredictable performances by large ensembles of between 20 and 50 musicians. A couple of good choices for jazz vocalists would be Katie Bull or Kate McGarry or folk/jazz vocalist K.J. Denhert. Since Earshot features different genres of music, let's try a cabaret vocal component, featuring singers like Baby Jane Dexter, Barb Jungr from London, Theo Bleckmann, or Uta Lemper, who is famous for her repertoire of Weimar Republic era Berlin cabaret songs and who now has an intriguing sounding new project, exploring the poetry of Charles Bukowski.
How about an Earshot Halloween Community Jazz Dance Party?
Another thing I've always wondered is why Earshot Jazz hasn't taken advantage of the festive Halloween holiday to create a wonderful and fun community jazz dance party, since Halloween falls in the middle of the yearly Earshot Jazz Festival. Instead, the organization usually puts on a formal, sit-down concert, and audience members don't show up in costumes. You would never know it was even Halloween! This year's Halloween offering was Mavis Staples, who was slightly more festive, but was held in the staid, pew-filled formality of Town Hall. How about renting a community hall in a convenient, centrally located Seattle neighborhood, easily accessible by both public transportation and car, and inviting families and people of all ages to come out and enjoy a memorable evening created for the whole community, in a wholesome, neutral atmosphere that is not a theatre, bar, restaurant or performance hall and that doesn't have alcohol as the principal focus for consumption?
Perhaps Earshot could make available a casual, catered, New Orleans-style meal and homemade baked goods for kids and adults that people can purchase. Make the cover charge for the event free or low-cost, so that all may attend and many people may come who never attended an Earshot Jazz event before and may become jazz fans and show up for future Earshot events. I think it would be exciting to book Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews and his band, Orleans Avenue, from New Orleans. Trombone Shorty is an incredible performer, and at the age of 24, was the buzz on 40,000 jazz-lovers' lips in September at the 2010 Monterey Jazz Festival, and the surprise hit of the weekend.
Shorty, a tall, slender trombonist/trumpeter/composer, got his nickname when he was playing trombone at age six in New Orleans street brass bands. He is a natural pied piper, who charms people to their feet and has them dancing and singing call and response within moments of walking onto a stage with his fabulous party blend of jazz, funk, pop, rock, and hip hop, in hot, no-holds-barred, true New Orleans style!
Or bring the March Fourth Marching Band up from Portland. Every day is Halloween for March Fourth, who always appear in creative costuming and have stilt walkers, hula hoopers, and women dancing with parasols to fill out the rich 35-ish piece band of horns and percussion. March Fourth is filled with real music pros and plays original jazz, funk, and circus-like march-oriented percussion and brass in a frenzy of energy, joy, and utter playfulness! This would be such a great, colorful, inclusive, and fun gift to give to the Seattle community!
Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band
A jewel in the crown of this year's festival was a standing-room-only performance by Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band Sextet at the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum on November 5. This tight ensemble of seasoned musicians played virtuosic, lovely, and inspiring original compositions by band members to a rapt, respectfully still, and highly concentrated audience. There was a great deal of electricity in the air!
Drummer/ band leader/ composer Brian Blade has performed through the years with a who's who of great musical artists including Wayne Shorter, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ellis Marsalis, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Joshua Redman, Kenny Garrett, and Bill Frisell.
Blade was joined by longtime Fellowship collaborators Jon Cowherd (piano/ harmonium/composition), Chris Thomas (bass), Melvin Butler (tenor/soprano saxophones), Myron Walden (alto saxophone/bass clarinet), and newer member Jeff Parker (guitar). Each musician brought dexterous and imaginative playing to the whole, in solos and as an ensemble, and their experience and familiarity working together made this "Fellowship" a winning combination. Never becoming raucous, their music alternately delivered both an element of heightened, concentrated bebop and an understated, spiritual intensity and elegance, like controlled, smoldering, red-hot embers encased in a coating of golden amber honey.
There were lots more vocalists on the schedule this year. New York-based British vocalist Tessa Souter, who played at Tula's on October 29 and 30, is one of those performers who explores beautiful, lesser-heard material and has superb taste in composers, including compositions by musical titans Wayne Shorter and Milton Naciemento on her set lists. Souter distinguishes herself as a memorable and unique singer, finding her niche by writing lyrics for instrumental pieces and generally singing more unusual songs. She has written sensitive, bittersweet lyrics to Shorter's beautiful instrumental tribute to his wife, Ana Maria, from his 1974 Native Dancer album. (Ana Maria Shorter was tragically killed, along with the couple's niece, in the 1996 TWA Flight 800 plane crash).
Souter's fascinating set choices included CFragile" by Sting, "Here's to Life," "Afro Blue," and Cole Porter's "Night and Day," with a Middle Eastern twist. She has a lovely voice, a comfortable, understated, confident presence, and easily communicates with her audience. Her thoughtful choice of material was very entertaining and reflected her commitment to her work. She was backed up by a superb trio of Northwest musicians: John Stowell (guitar), Jeff Johnson (bass) and Mark Ivester (drums). It is a testament to their talent, experience, and professionalism that they sounded like they had been playing with Souter for years, but had actually just met her before their Tula's gig.
Toshi Reagon and Meklit Hadero, on a double bill
Blues vocalist/guitarist/composer Toshi Reagon has a rich voice, a big heart, and a great sense of humor, mixed in with righteous indignation about the state of U.S. politics and a sincere desire to wake people up to the absurdity of our current national situation. She has an earthy, strong, comfortable, matter-of-fact presence. She can make you laugh one minute and then be moved by the soulful, gutsy, and truth-telling depth of emotion emanating from her solar plexus the next.
Reagon is the daughter of Bernice Reagon, co-founder of the Freedom Singers and Sweet Honey in the Rock. She sometimes plays gigs with her mother and has played at the White House and performs internationally. She has a very loyal following in Seattle, especially amongst the Lesbian community. Her all-women trio with Allison Miller on drums and Gail Ann Dorsey on electric bass, packed a punch with great musicianship and generosity of spirit that made Reagon's show an Earshot Festival highlight.
On the bill opening for Reagon was Ethiopian-born, Brooklyn-raised, San Francisco-based Meklit Hadero, whose personality and presentation was a contrast to that of Toshi Reagon's. Her countenance was that of a sunny, sweet, light-spirited butterfly, and she expressed herself best when she got out from behind her guitar and let her graceful, dancelike, sultry, tropical physicality take flight as she sang her catchy original songs, flower in hair and barefoot on the stage. The young Hadero counts Nina Simone as one of her major influences. Her performance and material was a bit lightweight, when contrasted on the bill by the formidable Ms. Toshi Reagon, but her performance was pleasant and received well by the audience. Her band included Seattle bassist and LUCID founder Evan Flory-Barnes.
The Tia Fuller Quartet
Alto and soprano saxophonist/flutist/composer/educator Tia Fuller strode onto the stage of the Triple Door on October 24 in a striking, deep red, body-hugging, strapless cocktail dress and four-inch-high golden stiletto heels, with gladiator wrap straps, which I imagined was one of the dramatic, show-stopping, glamorous outfits that she probably wore during her four years traveling recently internationally in an all-female band, backing up ubiquitous mega star Beyoncé.
Fuller and her group immediately launched into uplifting, high-fire playing, that was exciting and crackling with sparks and mellifluous sophistication. Fuller plays with agility, confidence, assertiveness, skill, and a no-nonsense fearlessness. The music produced by her quartet is intensely energetic and appealing, exhibiting variety, colors, tight ensemble playing, and lovely melodies.
Fuller comes from a musical family. Her grandfather was one of the legendary Inkspots. The other spot-on members of her quartet include Shamie Royston, her older sister, on piano; Rudy Royston, her brother-in-law, on drums; and Mimi Jones on upright bass. Shamie Royston's supportive piano approach is powerful and dynamic, in which I heard influences of Mc Coy Tyner's percussive strength and the lushness and high-energy approach of Kirk Lightsey. Royston said after the show that Tyner is one of her biggest influences. The quartet played a number of tunes, both original and standards, from Fuller's latest album, Decisive Steps, including the CD's title piece, "Wind Soar," the mellow and sensual "Kissed by the Sun," "Shades of McBride," an original piece she wrote for bassist Christian Mc Bride, "Clear Mind," "I Can't Get Started," and "My Shining Hour." I was really impressed by Tia Fuller and felt like she gave 100% in her performance.
The Rufus Reid Trio
The Rufus Reid Trio is the Rolls Royce of jazz trios, combining elegance, sophistication, and thrillingly good taste. A distinguished bassist/composer and educator, Rufus Reid has complimented numerous legendary jazz artists as a sideman, including Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones, and Nancy Wilson. Reid brought his brilliant trio, with Steve Allee on piano and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums, to Tula's on October 31 and November 1-2. The high quality of their music reminded me of the days when we could depend on hearing this dazzling caliber of powerful jazz musicians any night of the week at the Jazz Alley. The trio played and improvised on original compositions and standards, including a Fonseca original, "Manhattan Style," a fabulous interpretation of the terrific standard "Come Rain or Come Shine" featuring Reid on bass and Allee on a particularly stunning piano solo, Tad Dameron's popular ballad "If You Could See Me Now," featuring Reid playing a sensitive, deep, and resonant bowed bass solo and a Reid original, written for a distant relative, called "When She Smiles Upon Your Face," a happy and lively Brazilian-style samba. Reid released a trio album called Out Front with Allee and Fonseca in March 2010.
The Steve Lehman Octet
Saxophonist/composer Steve Lehman composes music that is highly intelligent, meticulously arranged, and exhibits a healthy balance between the intellect and the intuitive. Lehman is part of a new breed of jazz composers creating intellectually exciting chamber ensemble jazz works. He appeared at the Seattle Art Museum on October 29 with an octet of some of the finest and most popular jazz musicians working in the forefront of new and fresh jazz composition. They played music from their 2009 octet album, Travail, Transformation, and Flow. The ensemble included a very pleasing and interesting instrumental combination of Lehman on alto sax, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Mark Shim on tenor sax, Jacob Garchick on trombone, Chris Dingman on vibes, Jose Davila on tuba, Cody Brown on drums, and the ubiquitous Drew Gress on bass. Their music was mentally stimulating, unique, melodically and rhythmically unpredictable, with changing colors and moods, and totally engaging on several levels. Their innovative and skilled, lucid ensemble playing and improvising solos were real crowd-pleasers, especially for serious jazz aficionados.
Ordo Sakhna is a 10-piece vocal/instrumental ensemble from Kyrgyzstan who played at Town Hall on October 28. This was their third tour of the U.S. but their first visit to Seattle, playing on Town Hall's Global Rhythms series. The group was formed in 1999 and is comprised of conservatory-trained classical musicians who have come together to "retain, develop and popularize Kyrgyz folk heritage around the world." This group was absolutely charming and one of the highlights of the 2010 Earshot Jazz Festival.
In some ways, their music reminded me of Andean folk music, because of the similar wind instruments played. They play clay ocarinas, transverse wooden flutes, recorder-like flutes, stringed instruments (including one that is a slender, elongated mandolin shape, called a komuz, which is the Kyrgyz national instrument). Another very ancient, violin-like instrument called a Kyak is both plucked and bowed and has a hollowed, concave body, shaped somewhat like a small canoe. The ancient khomus is 4,000 years old and is the oldest instrument of Kyrgyz musical culture. It resembles a Jew's harp in its look and sound. A cello-like instrument, percussion instruments, and a ram's horn round out the instruments in the group.
The group "has gathered an exclusive collection of ancient traditional melodies and dastans (oral histories) and adapted them to make a contemporary Kyrgyz cultural statement: not only in music and song, but also detailed re-creations of traditional costumes and mannerisms of motion and symbolism of gestures." Their costumes were beautiful and distinctive. The women wore floor-length dresses, colorfully embroidered with flower patterns, and large, turban-like headdresses. The men reminded me of medieval foresters, wearing appliquéd tunics, high boots, and striking, embroidered hats. The singing by the featured male and female vocalists was beautiful, clear, and powerful. The songs performed by vocal master Baktybek Shatenov required an especially incredible and impressive amount of breath control. Their songs included stories of the happy reunion of a camel calf and its mother, a memory of love, an ancient tune used by shamans long ago, a description of a young girl living in a yurt, a song in celebration of plentiful harvest, a traditional love song, and several songs about horses including epic tales of famous horses through history including the horse of Genghis Khan, the horse of Alexander the Great, and an aging and timid horse called Taitoru, in a very intense, all-encompassing, shamanic recitation by Ryspai Isakov from an epic Krygyz tale, Manas, in which we learn of the old horse's surprising victory in a race over younger horses, gaining pride for his late owner Manas and his family. This was Isakov's only appearance of the evening and it was clear that he entered a shamanic state in relaying the tale and was visibly spent at the end.
Ordo Sakhna surprised their American audience with the sweetest gestures prepared especially for us in two endearing songs. Under the title "Mustang: The North American Horse", they played the swing jazz tune, In the Mood and captured our hearts, by playing, under the title of "Our Gift to You", their unique version of Strangers in the Night, with whistling and ensemble. Many audience members sang along and were completely entranced and delighted.
Many Artists Worthy of Note
There were many artists worthy of note in this year's festival. I would like to give them at least some mention here.
Gretchen Parlato, who performed at the Triple Door with a trio of young all-stars (Taylor Eigsti on piano, Kendrick Scott on drums, and Alan Hampton on bass) is a fine, up-and-coming young singer from New York. She has great taste in material and composers, performing lesser-heard, beautiful songs such as "Ugly Beauty" by Thelonius Monk, "Blue and Green" by Bill Evans, and "Butterfly" by Herbie Hancock. She also sings in Portuguese, performing Brazilian pieces with the confidence and lyricism of a native speaker. She has engaged pianist Robert Glasper to collaborate on arrangements, putting his unique musical stamp on some of Parlato's material, adding some further excitement. Parlato has a pleasing, soft, constant, and assured vocal delivery and a considerable foundation as a musician.
The Scott Amendola Trio, with Jeff Parker on guitar and John Shifflett on bass and San Francisco-based Amendola on drums/electronics, burned through Amendola's passionate, wild, raucous, concentrated, rock-tinged jazz compositions from his new CD, Lift, at Cornish College, satisfying fans of intensely rhythmic style and emphasis on electric guitar exploration, playing original pieces including "Death by Flower" and "Blues for Istanbul."
Seattle vocalist Gail Pettis had a relaxed and natural air in her performance at Tula's, singing standards with a deep, resonant, and soulful voice. She was also the featured guest vocalist with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra in their two festival performances.
The Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, featuring some of Seattle's finest jazz musicians and educators, delivered two solid performances of crowd-pleasing music from the last 70 years of movies at Nordstrom Recital Hall and the Kirkland Performance Center, performing popular, well-known pieces, including the themes from Mission: Impossible, The Pink Panther, Black Orpheus, The Days of Wine and Roses, and songs from Cabin in the Sky, including "Stormy Weather," made famous by Lena Horne and sung here by Gail Pettis.
Eminent Japanese pianist/composer Ryuichi Sakamoto played a very rare North American appearance at the Moore Theatre. He was a pioneer in electronica with the Yellow Magic Orchestra in the 1970s and blends a considerable background in classical and jazz into his playing. He is well-known for his Grammy and Oscar Award-winning score for The Last Emperor (1987), co-written with David Byrne and Cong Su, and composing the score for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), as well as for Sheltering Sky, Little Buddha and other films. Influenced by Claude Debussy, his solo Moore performance was impressionistic, atmospheric, subtle, controlled, and spare, accompanied by meditative, dreamy, enigmatic, grainy, and abstract black-and-white video projections. Sakamoto is also a committed environmentalist and is the founder of the MoreTrees Foundation.
Vocalist Natacha Atlas satisfied fans hungering for Middle Eastern music at the Triple Door with her world music blending of Arabic and pop music. The set did not offer a great deal of musical variety, but I particularly liked her version of the folk song, "Black is the Color." She was accompanied by a rich instrumentation, including violin, cello, bass, piano, and percussion. The audience got a surprise treat when a colorful local belly-dancing troupe opened her show.
Other notable performances were pianist Wayne Horvitz's TONK project, featuring rarely-heard two-piano works with accompaniment from a lesser known 1950 recording by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, featuring Danish pianist Soren Kjaergaard, D'vonne Lewis on drums, and Evan Flory-Barnes on bass. Featured on the double bill were saxophonist Michael Blake and his ensemble, Blake Tartare, in a tribute project to late Seattle saxophonist Lucky Thompson at Cornish College; an evening with soul/gospel vocalist Mavis Staples at Town Hall; and pianist Robert Glasper's trio performance at the Triple Door.
All in all, this was a very ambitious festival, with a great deal of substantial talent and a huge variety of musical forms to choose from.
For more information on all up coming Earshot Jazz events, visit www.earshot.org.
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