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Berklee Global Jazz Institute Sends Envoy to Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

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Friday January 16, 2015

From DownBeat Magazine

Berklee Global Jazz Institute Sends Envoy to Dominican Republic Jazz Festival

Although attendance is free, the Dominican Republic Jazz Festival sells VIP tickets, assigning the funds to hold music workshops, master classes and youth concerts for children from Puerto Plata, Sosúa and Cabarete, the three host municipalities. The 2014 edition hosted 18 young musicians in all, many at a stimulating daylong Saturday program at a tent-covered stage of a Cabarete beach.

Just after 10 a.m., Joe Lovano took the stage before a few hundred children, mostly girls, aged perhaps 9 to 15. He told them that the sounds of nature are a continual source of inspiration, then put forth a mellow improvisation backdropped by the sound of waves lightly splashing in the distance. “When you play your instrument, you have to hear what you play and listen to what’s around you,” he said. “Everyone has their own rhythm. To be able to express your rhythm, you must feel, and try to express your inner feelings.”

He played a major scale “to experience those tones,” he said. Then he played the scale in one breath, and followed by improvising a different rhythm with the same notes “to make the scale into music, with melody.” Then he demonstrated the intervals, playing “the tonalities in a different sequence.” Then he played “Happy Birthday” in different keys.

“The foundation of jazz music is the blues,” Lovano said. “It’s a story about who you are, to try to say something in the music.” To demonstrate, Lovano uttered a simple phrase. “My name is Joe Lovano,” he said, “and I am very happy to be in the Dominican Republic to talk to you about music.” Then, with his saxophone, he played the sentence, his tone conveying the same message. He concluded the lesson with a spontaneously created slow blues in conjunction with bassist Ramón Vázquez, who is the Artistic Director of DRJF and a drummer from the National Conservatory in Santo Domingo.

A half-hour later, a sextet from the Berklee Global Jazz Institute—Michael Wang (trombone), Edmar Colón (tenor sax), Tommaso Gambino (guitar), Alex Gasser Londoño (bass), Noam Israeli (drums) and Nêgah Santos (percussion)—took the stage. The girls responded viscerally to Santos (the band’s sole female musician), who spent much of this session leading the children through an array of rhythms, inspiring dancing, singing and screaming.

On the previous evening in Sosúa, the ensemble had joined Lovano in concert. The leader—a BGJI faculty member who had handpicked the musicians for the occasion—launched the proceedings with a bravura improvisation on an open ballad, “The Dawn Of Time,” controlling time and timbre with authority. It was a tough act to follow, and the students played tentatively, but gained their footing on “Topsy Turvy,” a freebop line with connotations of mid-’70s jazz outfit Old and New Dreams. On this tune, Lovano and Colón switched off between solos and unisons, setting up a cogent trombone solo over crisp swing beats and Lovano’s turbulent variations on the theme.

A jagged blues followed: Gambino played a flowing solo; Colón carved out rhythms with Rollins-esque force; Wang slowed the pace, then built a compelling solo in the Curtis Fuller vein; Lovano toyed with the time and vocalized his tone. The highlight, though, was the final piece, “Idris,” which Israel and Santos opened with textural percussion, dialoguing with each instrument in the open space. After Lovano’s free, all-melody statement, Wang took the evening’s most striking solo, a creative abstraction of shapes and smears articulated across a broad timbral palette, reminiscent of George Lewis’ late-’70s offerings with Anthony Braxton.

On Saturday evening at Cabarete Beach, the Berklee students presented a concert of original music that displayed their mature musicianship. After Wang’s uptempo, Latinish “Jungle,” which featured strong solos by Colón and Caseres, they addressed Colón’s multi-sectional “Lemon Wind,” on which the trombone and guitar solos proceeded over exhaustively reharmonized “I’ll Remember April” changes in a form that alternated between 3/4 and swing feels. Colón’s “Samba Por Ivan (Lins)” opened with free rubato dialogue among the instruments, resolving into a funky street samba with meaty changes. Santos launched a resonant tambourine solo, inspiring Colón to interpolate samba school whoops and whistles on an a capella episode that led a tenor-tambourine encounter reminiscent of Sonny Rollins’ “Jungoso.”

At this moment, the festival organizers presented a lifetime achievement award to Puerto Plata native Rafael Solano Sánchez, the 83-year-old pianist, songwriter and composer. For the occasion, Colón had arranged Solano’s bolero “Por Amor,” which the crowd sang back to the composer as he stood behind the band, listening to an aria-like solo by saxophonist (and BGJI Managing Director) Marco Pignataro, and flowing, detailed variations by flutist Mia Olson. As Olson played, Solano acceded to requests that he play and sing, and, after stagehands moved a piano directly behind Olson—she kept her focus despite the ruckus—he sat before the keys to huge applause. As Olson finished, Sánchez accompanied himself singing a three-tune medley, opening with “En la Oscuridad.”

In keeping with the local flavor, the BGJI ensemble launched Colón’s arrangement of “Compadre Pedro Juan,” a Dominican folk song/merengue by Luis Alberti. After an Afrocentric drum intro, the horns played the refrain with a Joe Henderson-style reharmonization, then segued to the solo rounds, which transpired over a slamming merengue beat.

On the following morning, over breakfast, DownBeat spoke with Pignataro, Lovano and Matt Marvuglio, dean of Berklee’s Performance Division.

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