The Freihofer’s Jazz Festival was a Latin jazz paradise this year. Acts like Pedrito Martinez, Steve Kroon, Edmar Castaneda, and Arturo O’Farrill stole the show
O’Farrill’s orchestra were doing just fine on their own playing the title track off their new album Forty Acres and a Burro. “You’re gonna hear Stravinsky meets Tito Puente,” he said of the tune. But the group really went through the roof when they brought up Columbian harpist Castaneda. “The first thing I noticed about him is what a beautiful human being he is,” O’Farrill said of Castaneda’s character. That beauty of living came right through the harp as he blazed trails over a couple of Tito Puente tunes to finish their set.
Pedrito Martinez Group made a stop from their busy tour schedule to grace the stage of the gazebo at SPAC. The group’s character is deeply connected with the rich cultural heritage of Havana, Cuba, Lima, Peru, and Caracas, Venezuela, from which the four-piece hail. Pianist Ariacne Trujillo flowed melodically and rhythmically with the incredibly tight grooves set by Martinez. Following their performance Saturday is a truly resounding list of dates at Montreaux Jazz Fest, Umbria Jazz Festival and Newport Jazz Fest. These guys are where it’s at! Booster that with their three-day-a-week residency at NYC’s Cuban restaurant Guantanamera, and you have a band who coalesce effortlessly. Starts and stops and four-part vocal harmonies happened so easily and out of nowhere that it was almost unbelievable. They began their set with “Once Again,” which also starts their most recent album Live at Guantanamera.
Esperanza Spalding and Radio Music Society set up like a big band with a huge radio-looking banner in front of the horn section. Alto saxophonist Tia Fuller led the horns and embarked on crystal voyages of sound as she soloed. Incredible intensity and fresh modernity have put this group at the forefront of modern jazz. Everybody in the group was extraordinary at making their instruments and voices do what they do and say what they mean. Spalding herself moved fluidly between electric and acoustic basses, and was herself extraordinary at coaxing a stellar performance out of her group. Trombonist Jeff Galindo showed the crowd what it means to be a real king after Esperanza assured us that it wasn’t bling, or things. “Raised six kids on a trombone budget!” Esperanza bragged for him. “Tell me ‘bout it,” she coaxed as he played his heart out.
Chris Botti gave a surprisingly great performance as well while staying in a popular jazz vein. His group covered Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches” from the Kind of Blue album as well as “Concerto De Aranjuez” from Sketches of Spain. Singer Lisa Fisher came out to wow the crowd—she has spent the past 14 years on tour with the Rolling Stones and the last two with Botti.
Hiromi went in hard with a trio that traversed the line between prog rock, classical virtuosity, and jazz feeling. Simon Phillips played an enormous drum kit complete with two bass drums, while Anthony Jackson played a six-string Contrabass guitar.
Diana Krall looked cool in black wayfarers and tall leather boots, her deep alto voice carrying so much depth and meaning to the originals and standard stories she told. She payed respects to the festival’s heritage with “Doing Alright,” a tune made famous by the great tenorista Dexter Gordon who appeared at the festival’s premier 35 years ago.
The festival has a real way of giving you a good picture of the way things currently are on the jazz scene on a world scale. This festival acts as a kind of template of success for the “jazz festival” scene at large.