A ‘Sleepy Little Jazz Festival’ Moving Up to the Big-Time
Aug 06, 2010 | 808 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Toshiko Akiyoshi
Toshiko Akiyoshi
Gospel Hummingbirds
Gospel Hummingbirds
TELLURIDE – “We’re home! We’re back home!” exults Telluride Jazz Celebration impresario Paul Machado, whose festival returns to its early-August time slot after last year’s experimental move to early June to team up with the Telluride Balloon Festival. If there’s one word summing up this year’s festival – the venerable Celebration’s 20th with Machado at its helm – it’s “synergy.”

“The way it has manifested,” says Machado, “there’s really something for everybody,” what with Guest of Honor Toshiko Akiyoshi, the pianist/composer/arranger/ bandleader whose work with tenor Lew Tabackin brought Japanese themes, harmonies and instruments to that heretofore all-American genre, in their eponymous Big Band that was, Machado says, “the most important and influential big bands jazz has ever known.”

Akiyoshi returns this year, directing the Crescent Super Band (2007 winner of the prestigious Downbeat Award), neatly bracketing her Telluride performance of three decades ago. But more importantly, says Machado, she is spearheading “a Japanese connection” for the Celebration, including “new young monster sensation Hiromi,” a rising star on the piano-jazz landscape since the release of her debut recording Another Mind,, in 2003, who comes this year with bass great Stanley Clark.

“I’m excited about the Japanese connection,” sums up Machado.

To exemplify the breadth of this year’s festival, he cites its R&B components, including the sultry-voiced Hazel Miller and the new-this-year Sunday-morning gospel show, from the Gospel Hummingbirds, who may well have created a whole new genre, something they call “Rhythm & Gospel,” with their trademark fusion of inspirational music with urban Rhythm & Blues.

Five-time Grammy winner Dianne Reeves is back, offering up some star wattage, as will first-time Celebration performer Jackie Ryan, the jazz vocalist possessing, Machado says, “an amazing range,” as she moves easily from gospel and blues to Brazilian bossa nova to heartfelt ballads.

On the fusion side, Larry Coryell returns to Telluride, alongside Karl Denson and his Tiny Universe. That latter group is moving up to the Telluride Conference Center for two post-Phish performances, Monday and Tuesday nights, beginning at 11:30 p.m.

The shadow of Phish looms large over this year’s Celebration, Machado confides, “and they’re giants,” he understates of the jam band, but more importantly of its operations people, who have worked closely with Jazz operations folks to ensure a smooth transition, when Town Park reinvents itself, not quite 24 hours after the last note of the Jazz Celebration, to host the audio-visual extravaganza Phish, heirs to the jam-band tradition pioneered by the Grateful Dead a few decades ahead of them.

“They’re giants,” Machado reiterates, of the Phish operatives, in town weeks ahead of the performance doing advance-work for the multimedia show. “It’s an interesting transition,” he muses, going from “this sleepy little Jazz Festival” to the full-bore universe that’s a Phish concert.

With a nod to the mega-show Jazz leads into, when Phish takes over the stage for its two-night gala in Town Park, Machado says, he has built this year’s Celebration to accelerate slowly, from Friday's 4 p.m. performance by San Francisco rock drummer Dan Hicks (a “central defining figure in American roots music,” Machado emphasizes, with his oeuvre of everything from genre-bending psychedelia to swing to jazz, Tin Pan Alley and country blues), followed by the smooth-singing Reeves, a successor to the sultry jazz pioneered by Dinah Washington and Carmen McRae.

“Saturday builds up a little more, with Stanley Clarke,” the performer/composer/conductor/arranger/producer/film composer of whom Machado speaks reverentially, calling him everything from “a true musical pioneer” to “a living legend.” Clarke, whom Telluride audiences last saw on stage at TElluride Bluegrass Festival with sui generis banjo player Bela Fleck, take the stage at 7 p.m., Saturday.

Of Sunday’s show, Machado says: “I retooled it for the Phish thing,” in part by adding The Greyboy Allstars, the San Diego funk and jazz group that revved up in the early 1990s with DJ Greyboy on the turntable and Karl Denson on sax and flute, that last played Telluride 14 years ago.

The centerpiece of Machado’s Jazz to Jam strategy, though, is a name he says will be on all music lovers’ lips soon – Raul Midon, the New York-based vocalist/guitarist/songwriter whose 2005 debut album, State of Mind, with its fluid, syncopated flamenco- and jazz-infused approach delivers music “in which bass, harmony and melodic lines emanate from the fretboard in one slaphappy storm.”

“He’s huge in Europe,” Machado says of Midon. “He’s a guitarist/vocalist/songwriter who’s got Stevie Wonder on both of his albums,” and who’s touted as the next Stevie Wonder.

He’s my sleeper,” says Machado, and that’s why Midon is coming onstage “right after Doc Delaney Smith and just ahead of Stanley Clarke.”
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