For six decades, the Newport Jazz Festival® has brought the infinite variety of jazz’s far-flung musical branches from around the world to its stages, and this year is no exception as it provides listeners with an aural passport to an art form beyond borders.
Africa is the cradle of humankind, so, it’s only fitting to first highlight the 76-year old, Nigerian-born, Paris-based drummer Tony Allen’s Newport debut on Friday, August, 3. Although you may not know the name, you definitely know his beat. He, along with the pioneering saxophonist Fela, co-created the infectious Afrobeat sound: a confluence of intoxicating, multi-layered rhythms influenced by West African highlife guitar riffs and licks, James Brown’s funky drum beats and Art Blakey’s relentless jazz swing on many of Fela’s iconic recordings including, Black President, Gentleman, and Beasts of No Nation. Allen comes to the stage buoyed by two CDs released in 2017. A Tribute to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers is a four-track EP that takes Allen back to his primary influence – performing the Jazz Messenger classics, “A Night in Tunisia,” “Moanin,” “The Drum Thunder Suite” and “Politely.” It also completes a symbolic musical circle which began when Blakey recorded the legendary Afrocentric LP’s The African Beat, Holiday for Skins and Drums Around the Corner in the 50s, when Allen was learning how to play jazz from Blakey’s records. Allen’s full-length CD, The Source is a worthy complement to the EP, with fuller, fleshed-out arrangements giving some of the tracks like “Moody Boy,” and “Push and Pull,” a New Orleans feel, contrasted by the Tokyo-fied take on “Cruising.” This swinging septuagenarian proves the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder’s 2,000-year old dictum is true: out of Africa; always something new.
Just as the continent of Africa has left its mark on jazz, the subcontinent of India has also left its indelible imprint on the music. Musicians from Duke Ellington and John McLaughlin to John and Alice Coltrane have adapted and adopted that country’s Hindu, Dravidian and Carnatic musical motifs, instruments and genres into their own jazz-centric works. For the last two decades, the Colorado-reared, New York-based alto saxophonist/composer/educator Rudresh Mahanthappa – like his friend and cohort Vijay Iyer – has molded and melded the music of his ancestral heritage into a swinging synthesis where antiquity and modernity exist on equal and evocative terms. As an improviser, Mahanthappa – who also worked as sideman with Danilo Perez, Arturo O’Farrill and Jack DeJohnette – is a laser-tinged amalgam of Coltrane’s sheets of sound, Eric Dolphy’s improvisational imagination, and Ornette Coleman’s power, all melded with the fluency of an ancient sitar virtuoso. Mahanthappa’s virtuosity is self-evident on his dozen-plus recordings, including his 2015 Charlie Parker influenced CD, Bird Calls, and on his 2017 recording Agrima with Indo-Pak Coalition, his 20-year old ensemble, with guitarist Rez Abbasi, and percussionist/tabla player Dan Weiss, which fuses classical South Asian music with electronics, pop elements and jazz. Rudresh Mahanthappa and Indo-Pak Coalition will bring a sound forum that defies genre and boundaries to the Newport stage on Friday.
Portugal left its colonial fingerprint in India, and was the mother country to Brazil. For the past few years, the Israeli-New York saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen – scion of the marvelously talented Cohen family, which also includes her brothers, trumpeter Avishai and saxophonist Yuval – has concentrated on Brazilian music in her repertoire – from the bossa nova to the lesser-known, choro genre, which includes the clarinet as a leading instrument, as evidenced by her CD’s Luminosa, and Claroscuro. She comes to Newport on Saturday, August 4, with the Rio-born, arranger and seven-string guitar virtuoso, Marcello Gonçalves to perform selections from their Grammy-nominated 2017 recording, Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos, a legendary Brazilian bandleader, composer and arranger. Cohen’s pithy and poetic clarinet is a beautiful foil to Gonçalves’ Berimbau-like guitar playing, especially on the selections “Coisa No. 10,” “Amphibious” and “Nana.” The result is a dynamic duo that not only shrinks Santos’ music from its big band origins down to size, but in doing so, creates an intimate new musical world in the process.
Another musician who is adept at translating the New World of his homeland into jazz is the phenomenally gifted, Grammy Award-winning Dominican pianist/composer/educator/lecturer Michel Camilo – an old favorite of the festival and a George Wein discovery. Classically-trained, and fluent in multiple musical languages, including bebop, mambo and the Dominican, African-born, pambiche rhythms, Camilo has been a crowd-pleasing performer for the three decades he’s been on the scene, from his early recording Why Not?. He also received critical and audience acclaim for his trio CD Thru my Eyes, his appearance in the 2000 Latin jazz documentary Calle 54 and his 2017 recording, Live in London, a solo tour-de-force recording featuring some of his treasures from his songbook including “From Within,” Nat King Cole’s “The Frim Fram Sauce” the festive, “Island Beat, and the Afro-Cubop standard, “Manteca.” When Camilo takes to the Newport stage on Friday, the sheer force he brings to the keyboard makes the description of his appearance at the event in a solo piano setting something of a misnomer.
The Cuban-born, New York-based wunderkind Harold Lopez-Nussa has all of the makings of a showstopper. He was a child prodigy from a musical family, a graduate of Cuba’s Amadeo Roldan Conservatory, and worked with Buena Vista Social Club singer Omara Portuondo. In 2005, he won a piano contest sponsored by Montreux Jazz Festival producer Claude Nobs and recorded his first CD, Canciones in 2007. Six years later, he released New Day, his first CD on an American label, followed by Havana-Paris-Dakar, and his latest, El Viaje. He also was featured in the 2011 documentary/soundtrack Ninety Miles with saxophonist David Sanchez, vibraphonist Stefon Harris and trumpeter Christian Scott. Blessed with a pianism that can encompass the subtlety of a Chopin etude, and the force of an Eddie Palmieri montuno, Lopez-Nussa supported by his trio consisting of his brother Ruy Lopez-Nussa on drums and percussion and Senegalese bassist Alune Wade, is a budding star that will shine on the Newport stage on Sunday, August 5.
Years from now, when musicologists study the rise in popularity of Latin jazz in the United States, they will find that the Canadian soprano saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett was the spark that lit the Afro-Cuban fire. With her group, Spirits of Havana, Bunnett and her partner, trumpeter Larry Cramer, started going to Cuba in the 80s, playing with, and learning from Cuban musicians. The fruits of her labor were a slew of vivacious recordings, from Spirits of Havana, The Water Is Wide, and Alma de Santiago to Cuban Odyssey, Ritmo + Soul, and her last two releases with her all-female Cuban group, Maqueque – Jane Bunnett & Maqueque and Oddara. When the group, consisting of vocalist/percussionist Melvis Santa, pianist Danae Olano, bassist, Celiz Jimenez, drummer Yissy Garcia, and percussionist Magdellys Savigne, comes to Newport on Sunday, they will bring a satisfying and diverse program of Cuban-centered music that includes a haunting rendition of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” laced with Bunnett’s serpentine-fired sax and flute lines.
During his 80th birthday celebration in Newport, the festival’s artist-in-residence, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, will present Sangam with Zakir Hussain, considered the world’s greatest living tabla player, and the drummer extraordinaire Eric Harland on Friday. Sangam easily earns a spot in this document, but that’s another story for another time. See Sangam at the Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers on Friday.
The 2018 Newport Jazz Festival presented by Natixis Investment Managers takes place August 3 – 5 at Fort Adams State Park and the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the Newport Casino. Artists include Charles Lloyd’s 80th Birthday Celebration with three different bands; Pat Metheny with Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh, & Gwilym Simcock; Living Colour; Andra Day; George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic; Alicia Olatuja; Jon Batiste; Michel Camilo; Grace Kelly; Laurie Anderson & Christian McBride Improvisations with special Rubin Kodheli; and Roy Hargrove. More artist announcements are coming soon.
For tickets and additional information, go to www.newportjazz.org.
Newport Festivals Foundation fosters the legacy and expands the impact of its Festivals through educational initiatives that celebrate innovation while preserving the deep traditions inherent in Jazz and Folk music. The Foundation’s goal is to offer opportunity, inspire through exposure and facilitate the collection of resources needed for musicians to celebrate and innovate. The focus on creating unique experiences to spark engagement is accomplished through a variety of initiatives, including instrument donations and performances at schools throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. For more information, please visit www.newportfestivals.org.
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