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Sunday August 08, 2010

from The Boston Globe

Newport Jazz Festival: A study in contrasts

by Steve Greenlee

NEWPORT, R.I. – The eclectic mix of styles that is the hallmark of the Newport Jazz Festival couldn’t have been displayed any better than it was mid-afternoon yesterday. As trumpeter Wynton Marsalis took his quintet through an hour of buttoned-down, straight-ahead jazz on the main stage, saxophonist Ken Vandermark’s thrash-jazz outfit Powerhouse Sound unfurled its fury on one of the two side stages.

Anat Cohen has a blast. Cohen, who is fast becoming the most interesting clarinetist of her generation, played with great physicality – lurching, thrusting, blowing at length with eyes closed and head down – but at the heart of her performance was a commitment to enjoy herself. During her quartet’s take of “After You’re Gone” – one that began as a lightly bouncing ballad but turned into a riot – Cohen was having so much fun that she missed her own entrance because she was laughing. Did it harm the piece? Hardly. She had the audience in her palm.

Dave Douglas’s brass fantasy. The trumpeter’s new quintet, Brass Ecstasy, features trombone, French horn, tuba, and drums in homage to Lester Bowie. The group sounded like a bebop combo, a funk-blues outfit, and a marching band on mushrooms – sometimes in the same piece. The set’s craziest moment arrived when Marcus Rojas sang distortedly through the mouthpiece of his tuba during a cover of Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”

Moran deconstructs Monk. Pianist Jason Moran, whose trio Bandwagon has become a regular at Newport, patiently explored every nook and cranny of Thelonious Monk’s “Crepuscule With Nellie,” unearthing new harmonic and rhythmic delights in the beautiful ballad. With his exceptional sidemen, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, Moran accomplished an impossible feat: making a Monk tune sound like his own.

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