September 23 would still be a big day for jazz fans if it weren’t for the first day of the 17th Hyde Park Jazz Festival.
During his set with poet Nikki Giovanni, tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson talked about some of the important musical names born that day, receiving great applause from the crowded audience at Hyde Park Union Church. Ray Charles. FrankFoster. Les McCann. “Bruce Springsteen too… (applause fades)… and John Coltrane.” The crowd exploded.
Welcome to the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, where Bird, Billie and Blakey inspire more enthusiasm than the Boss. Festival punches in the same weight class Chicago Jazz Festival as megastar billings go, but it probably covers a wider spread in half the time. On Saturday alone, there were two NEA Jazz Masters in veteran drummer Louis Hayes and pianist Kenny Barron; dealers’ preferred range of free jazz talent; three acts that keep up with the classical or third movement; screening of a documentary about Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge; and a DJ set to close out the outdoor stages at Midway Plaisance.
This is just a sampling though. Since humans have not yet mastered time travel, any view of this jam-packed festival is a partial one. But even among the sets I listened to, Coltrane’s “Naima” became a birthday tune delivered by Hayes and his quintet in a moderately rocking version (including some musicians and the same instrumentation from his last album, “Exactly Right!”), and Sunday afternoon It was played on the carillon.
There was also a more somber memorial service on Saturday. At the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (formerly the Eastern Institute), cornetists Josh Berman and Ben LaMar Gay have recreated elements of an ancient culture. set of three They played at Experimental Sound Studio in 2016 upon the invitation of the trumpeter. jaimie branchThe trio of Berman and Gay, who died last year at the age of 39, have now become a duo and expressed their pain in a performance that lasted for hours, was astounding, and even comforting. Berman’s swelling lines seemed to be a result of the agony that had accumulated in his body, sometimes reflected in a stamping foot; Gay’s long, breathy tones, both sung and played, gave them a spiritual foundation.
Another charming duo met a few blocks away at Augustana Lutheran Church. Multireedist Jeff Chan and percussionist Suwan Choi combined free improvisation with traditional Korean instrumentation with the conviction and clarity of a two-man piece. Choi set the tone for each episode, whether it was a galloping rhythm greyhound (double-headed hourglass drum) or experimenting with many sounds of one drum song Chan was working out on it, playing tenor saxophone, flute and bass clarinet.
But like last year, my favorite set of the festival took root at the Logan Center Performance Hall. Dee Alexander’s Ancestors Reign was every bit the supergroup he promised, featuring pianist Alexis Lombre, violinist Zara Zaharieva, bassist Emma Dayhuff and multi-instrumentalist. Coco Elyses and percussionist JoVia Armstrong, Alexander sings and Nejla Yatkin improvises choreography. Not only were they thrilled with the tightest, most creative band playing all day, but the band’s enjoyment of each other was clear and contagious.
Other sets had rougher edges, but their roughness was a feature, not a bug. On Saturday, Endea Owens and her charismatic Cookout band overcame microphone feedback and ensemble miscommunication to deliver a knockout show on the Wagner Stage that led the audience chorus with “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and brought nearly 100 people to their feet for “Electric.” Slide.” Previously, Owens introduced “Cycles,” whose composer was “one of my greatest inspirations, someone who gave me the strength to keep going.”
“And that composer… is me,” he said, before launching into the stirring, anthemic song.
Giovanni would undoubtedly approve of Owens’ self-love wisdom. Earlier that day, Giovanni had riveted a capacity crowd by reciting her songs and poems during a live version of “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni,” the spiritual album the famed poet created with Jackson. “their father” And “Ego Tripling.”
In fact, Giovanni took up very little space on the album and, as he admits, he is not a very good singer. But his appearance was less about the music itself than the stories behind them, stories that alternate between loud and deep. She told the crowd that she wanted to include “Night Song” on the album because her close friend Nina Simone had long thought it was one of her most underrated records. Giovanni then teased a possible future project based on Great American Songbook classics like “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” which his mother loved.
At one point, Giovanni had to navigate a tense moment when a man briefly yelled at him from behind the Hyde Park Union Church. It was difficult to understand exactly what the scammer was aiming for, but he appeared to accuse Giovanni of having “blood on his hands” following the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, where Giovanni taught until last year. (Giovanni had previously warned his colleagues about the gunman’s violent obsessions.) Giovanni calmly stared at the man until he finished talking frantically and the door clicked behind him. Then, to admiring applause, he resumed mid-sentence.
If Giovanni took us to church with his words, later that night Kenny Barron did the same with his music. The Hyde Park Jazz Festival always reserves a major headlining spot for the red-eye stage at the Rockefeller Chapel on Saturday, attracting an angry self-selecting crowd. People started applying an hour early; Just before Barron started playing, the crowd was between 200 and 300.
“I’m surprised there are so many of you. “I’m in bed at 11 o’clock,” Barron joked.
Even if Barron was tired, his focused, outstanding play didn’t show it. He added a touch of watercolor to “For God’s Sake” and his own “Sunshower.” Other originals followed, such as “Song for Abdullah”, inspired by memories of listening to pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, and “Calypso”, a retelling of Barron’s early years playing piano in a West Indian band via Thelonious Monk.
In fact, while Barron was halfway through “Shuffle Boil,” a Monk title track, someone or something accidentally turned off the lights above the altar, plunging Barron and his big concert into near-darkness. Barron didn’t miss a beat or a note. The lights came back on before the end of the song, but he never acknowledged this flaw in his warm, informative comments between tracks.
Was it a dream? It almost felt like it. But the moment was as real as they come: Barron softly backlit, his monk pate leaning over the keys in silhouette, strangers sitting shoulder to shoulder in a prayer-like posture.
Hannah Edgar is a freelance critic.
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