High-octane jazz ignites audiences

By By Matt Barney

By Matt Barney

This past Friday’s Crescent Jazz Festival proved that jazz is alive and thriving in Salt Lake City.

The show began with the Salt City Saints marching into the Kingsbury Hall auditorium and blaring their Dixieland-style jazz. Leading the group was the charismatic Lloyd Miller, a clarinetist as well as a competent pianist.

The Dixieland jazz was authentic, which means that the instruments weren’t amplified. As a result, the huge Kingsbury Hall dampened the sound quality. Though the Salt City Saints played only a few tunes, when “Over in the Glory Land” had started, the audience joined in with clapping-albeit off-time.

Next up was the Javon Jackson Band, the style of which is a mix of funk, jazz and soul, and whose members included the funky Terreon Gully on drums, Mark Whitfield on his red guitar and Javon himself on tenor sax. Somehow, the band’s bassist was lost along the way, and a Salt Lake City resident filled in.

Terreon punished his drum set with machine-gun drums and rhythms while Whitfield, an utterly incredible guitarist, displayed his solo prowess with cascades of arpeggios and blistering, finger-picked passages.

A “wah” effect on Whitfield’s guitar kicked off the Javon Jackson Band’s final song. The following equation describes what occurred: A rock beat fused with a funky bass-line divided by a searing guitar to the power of Jackson tenor equals the energy equivalent to a small nuclear explosion in Kingsbury Hall. We were told the song was an old jazz staple, but its theme was only revealed in the final few minutes.

What was it?

Why, “Summertime,” of course, and its unique interpretation was vindicated by its late recognition and wild sound.

The eagerly anticipated main event was the Crescent Festival Orchestra, conducted by BYU’s Ray Smith. The big-band sound was full of cameos, as Whitfield and Jackson joined the congregation to fill in the already-pregnant sounds of the orchestra, and Terreon Gully also hopped in on the fun, trading off with the dark horse of the evening, drummer Matt Wilson. Wilson was a dream to watch, and his contagious enthusiasm infected all.

Kurt Elling, in his pinstripe suit, finally made his debut, singing in a deep, earthy tenor. The third song, “Man in the Air,” sounded like a theme song reject for an “I Dream of Jeannie” spin-off. There was the line: “Man in the air / The man is a poet.” I’m sorry to say it, but whoever wrote that was not.

It is difficult for a jazz singer to pull off serious performances without sounding corny and like Frank Sinatra. Many times, it just came off as ridiculous melodrama.

Elling’s final song was a cover of “Resolution” by John Coltrane. Elling sang lyrics he himself wrote for this classic. Elling’s scat, or whatever it was, may as well have been improv, as the lyrics were wholly unintelligible. One wonders if Kurt Elling had a case of glossolalia (speaking in tongues).

The encore was a typical big band song, screaming 1920s. Randy Brecker blasted us one more time with a final blazer. Dennis Irwin from the Jazz Messengers brought the entire audience to its feet with his sax solo and the night ended with a splashy rush of sound.

[email protected]