San Jose Jazz Summer Fest Hits High Note for Silver Anniversary
Posted 8/21/2014

The 25th anniversary edition of the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest from Aug. 8–10 embodied the notion that groove is the core thread connecting the various subsets of Pan-American musical expression. More than 100 bands, many drawn from the Bay Area’s deep well of musical talent, played on 12 stages, outdoors and indoors, in the downtown area of the financial locus of Silicon Valley.

High-level blues, soul, zydeco and r&b acts—iconic (Bootsy Collins), chart-topping (Ledisi), regional road warriors (The Soul Rebels, C.J. Chenier) and local heroes (Sista Monica and J.C. Smith)—were important components in the populist undertaking. But the meat of the matter was to be found in an eclectic roster of jazz-folk and a connoisseur’s assortment of Afro-Caribbean practitioners.

The Latin programming was comprehensive and spectacular. Ebullient dancers transformed the entire block of South Almaden Avenue that faced the Salsa Stage into a plein air version of Manhattan’s legendary Palladium Ballroom in response to the kinetic Bay Area-based—and 2014 Best Tropical Latin Record Grammy-winner—Pacific Mambo Orchestra; lustrous-toned Bronx trombonist Jimmy Bosch, whose quintet quiet-stormed lilting mambos and sultry boleros; and the Cuban son band Conjunto Chappottín y Sus Estrellas, rendering repertoire that iconic composer-tres avatar Arsenio Rodríguez played more than 60 years ago with equally iconic Cuban trumpeter Felix Chappottín. (Marring the proceedings was the unforgivable absence of the declarative four-piece trumpet section from the sound mix.)

Other world-class acts included Pedrito Martinez’s quartet with force-of-nature singer-keyboardist Ariacne Trujillo, which played three separate concerts, including an ascendant noontime Sunday set at which the formidable Cuban timbalero Calixto Oviedo, from Cuba’s Orquesta Con Sabor, sat in.

The unparalleled Puerto Rican plena ensemble Viento de Agua performed. Pancho Sanchez led a tribute to the late Bay Area-based conguero Armando Peraza with a group including percussion heroes Pete Escovedo and John Santos. The path-breaking Fort Apache Band—led by trumpeter-conguero Jerry González, with original members Larry Willis (piano) and Joe Ford (alto and soprano saxophone), joined by Alex Blake filling in on bass for the ailing Andy González, and Jeff “Tain” Watts, in magnificent form, on drum kit—played twice.

In their logical synthesis of the rhythmic and harmonic tropes of hard-core jazz with a broad timeline of idiomatically refracted Afro-Cuban beats, Fort Apache may have presented the most radical program of the entire jazz contingent.

On a similar level, during a well-attended Sunday all-afternoon showcase for Motéma Music at Cafe Stritch, was a far-flung impromptu duo by Charnett Moffett—whose voice on fretless electric bass was as musical as it was virtuosic—with Watts, with whom Moffett first shared a bandstand in the mid-’80s with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet, as documented on the album Black Codes (From The Underground).

That said, all members of the jazz cohort revealed themselves deeply informed by tradition, while able to refract the codes in their own manner. Herself the daughter of Luis Russell (Louis Armstrong’s musical director) and Carline Ray from the Sweethearts of Rhythm, vocalist Catherine Russell, on her third night of three in Northern California with pianist Mark Shane, guitarist Matt Munisteri and bassist Tal Ronen animated a suite of good-old-good-ones—the blues, old-school T.O.B.A. vaudeville (“You’ve Got The Right Key, But The Wrong Keyhole”), early r&b (Wynonie Harris’ “Quiet Whiskey”), Tin Pan Alley chestnuts (Fats Waller’s “Blue Turning Grey Over You”), torch songs and spirituals—with in-the-moment conviction.

Diane Perrier presented Dinah Washington repertoire with Houston Person as signifying tenor saxophonist and Tammy Hall on piano. Nicole Henry, accompanied by a local unit called the Top Shelf Big Band, brought a contemporary touch to a jazz-meets-soul suite of tunes, selling them with husky, churchy contralto.

Tenor singer Kenny Washington and tenor saxophonist Michael O’Neill, both Bay Area-ites, collaborated on a satisfying set of swingers, ballads and a touch of bebop in Cafe Stritch’s cozy confines.

Across South First Street, at the California Theater, Kevin Harris, a crooner from the Billy Eckstine-Lou Rawls school, delivered “Green Dolphin Street” and “The Nearness Of You” with authority, cosigned by saxophonist Donald Harrison and a crisp rhythm section of Hall, big-sound bassist Marcus Shelby and drummer Darryl Green, whose collective command of nuance and dynamics belied the fact that Harrison—his working band was stuck in Colorado—had retained their services perhaps an hour before the hit. (For the prior three evenings at Cafe Stritch, Shelby and Green had propelled an inspiriting tribute to Rahsaan Roland Kirk by trombonist Steve Turre’s Eulipion All Stars, highlighted by Turre’s to-the-point arrangements and elegant solos and James Carter’s otherworldly contributions on tenor saxophone and flute.)

Although Harrison monitored his charges’ whereabouts via cell phone between solos, he must not have been too distracted—he sprinted into Charlie Parker territory on “Oleo,” constructing fleet, melodic lines with impeccable execution, quoting “Nutty” and “Salt Peanuts” along the way; on “Green Dolphin Street” he referenced Sonny Stitt before switching to his own voice, cramming the notes on an ascendant declamation.

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Pedrito Martinez (left) performs with his band at the San Jose Jazz Summer Fest on Aug. 10. (Photo: Daniel Garcia)

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