Tommy Lipuma’s birthday bash on Thursday evening was a spectacular way to kick off the 37th Tri-C JazzFest. Any subsequent acts appearing would have a tough time matching the musicality, showmanship and energy that Diana Krall, Leon Russell, Dr. John, and Al Jarreau had offered the night before.
How did Friday fare?
Well, if you gauged that by Friday’s crowds I’d say that it was at least as successful, if not a little more intimate than the few thousand of us that sang a happy birthday to the 80-year old Lipuma.
Starting at 6:00 at the Allen Theater Chick Corea and his trio kicked off a phenomenal set that played for almost ninety minutes; his compositions ranged from some of his older fare to a cut from his newest album. Impeccable in their craft, Brian Blade behind the kit, Christian McBride on the bass and Mr. Corea plinking the keys, the trio lit up the smaller theater. Corea tuned up his piano right after taking the stage and thanking the audience for coming out to see the show…and then proceeded to “tune up” the audience. What an engaging way to bring the audience into the moment! It reminded me of my high school choir director making us sing the scales prior to a big performance.
From that point on we were in the moment until the trio released us a good ninety minutes later. One of the best things that you can say about jazz is how it, improvisational in nature, sounds to an audience. This trio sounds as if they’re pell-mell jamming in someone’s garage (or, more fittingly to a jazz scenario, someone’s basement) but we know that this is finely-tuned, well-orchestrated music. There may be room for improv, but this trio is tight.
After leaving the stage and called back for an encore by the roar of the crowd, the trio finally left the stage once and for all.
Scurrying over to the cavernous Connor Palace Theater, I just made it backstage for the David Sanborn/Maceo Parker double bill.
A friend of mine told me they never heard of Sanborn; I asked them if he had ever seen Lethal Weapon and that killer sax bit that played throughout the film. “Of course!,” he said.
Well, that’s David Sanborn.
I got a smile and a thumbs up after that little pop-cult name drop.
Sanborn and his band took the stage first, a pronounced limp from a childhood bout of polio accompanied him to the awaiting stool. His band played well over their allotted time, offering about a half dozen tunes in their ten to fifteen minute lengths. Playing to a mostly-sold out house, the sextet blew the roof off the theater with a blistering drum solo, several-minutes long Sanborn riffs and a bass solo that wrapped up the show. While much of the music could be considered “showy,” this is another act that is tight and always offers a phenomenal display of smooth jazz.
Maceo Parker is synonymous to the funk jazz style of music made famous by James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic, two groups in which he has, unsurprisingly, played with throughout his fifty-plus year career.
Closing out Saturday evening’s concert schedule, Parker and his band played for well over an hour. Their brand of church-inspired funk brought down the house a number of times; Parker hit that sax hard and let each member of the “tightest little funk orchestra on Earth” shine in their own solo.
Meanwhile, the outdoor stage planted right under the giant chandelier showcased on several local acts. Food vendors offered their cuisine; buskers played for passersby and a little sax quartet from Montreal, “Sax-O-Matic,” snaked their way up and down Euclid Avenue.
The weather cooperated; it wasn’t too hot outside, but inside the Playhouse complex it was, sorry for this, red hot.