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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"THREE X FOUR" - Ocho Rios jazz review

Other band formats came and delivered good accounts of
themselves (this writer arrived after the reportedly good
performance by the Antelope Valley Big Band), but its arguable
that the final day of the 2005 Ocho Rios Jazz Festival belonged
to quartets.

The first such to greet us was the effervescent Kathy Brown group,
comprising Brown on keyboards and the now road-tested trio (with
Brown and other groups) of Dale Brown on electric bass, Denver Smith
on percussion and Deleon "Jubba" White on drums. One of the real gems
to have emerged in jazz over the last several years, Brown never gives
you the same tune twice and even her oft-performed numbers, like The
Flinstones theme, and Afro-Blue were presented on Sunday last with some
interesting, if minor variations. The group also played a Cuban compositon
entitled The Light that went over well with the audience.

After their departure, another large aggregation took the Almond Tree stage.
Billed as a tribute to ska, theirs was a meandering albeit energetic set
that saw, founder/leader Errol Lee also hailing Ocho Rios festival founder
Sonny Bradshaw and others associated with the event. Lee, aided and abetted
by festival sponsors bMobile, also encouraged some audience participation
to the lively ska numbers, as well as a hilarious sing-along in which the
contestant – clearly a foreigner - warbled his best Bob Marley, blissfully
out of tune and pace with the band.

The next foursome brought a change of pace to the festival, at a time
when organizers were beginning to "chase the sun" as it were (the garden
setting with its gazebo are not equipped for a nightime show). Black
Zebra saw the return of Brown on bass, along side Richie Cunningham on
the trap set. Up front were Mark Pritchett and Wayne McGregor, who did
a virtual quickstep through a part-tribute to Delta blues legend Muddy Waters
, including "The Blues Had A Baby" the salacious "You Shook Me" and I’ve Go to
be Goin Home". They threw in Gary U.S. Bonds’ "New Orleans" and closed in
customary fashion with Steve Winwood’s "Gimme Some Lovin’" the latter featuring
some heavier-than-usual pedal effect work by Pritchett especially.

The blues was just the right platform for the next guest, Philly storyteller
and guitarist Randy Lippincott, who brought his laid-back humour and fluid
acoustic guitar lines to the likes of Robert Johnson’s "Kind-hearted Woman"
The only lament in this case was that Lippincott’s band could not accompany
him to Jamaica. That would have enabled the audience to experience some of
the rollicking bar-burners on his excellent CD, Soul Monkey.

The "Philly Posse" extended their presence with the arrival of the sax-vocal
tandem of Byard Lancaster and Barbara Walker. The poignancy of the absence of
the festival’s founders and spearheads, was much in evidence as Walker dedicated
an intense reading of Simon & Garfunkel’s "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to
Myrna Hague. Walker, ably supported by Marjorie Whylie on piano also showed
characteristic gusto and tonal control on blues chestnuts like "I Ain’t
Doin’ Too Bad" (with a snatch of "Everyday I Have The Blues" thrown in),
her own "One Eyed Man" and, in a nod to her home state, ‘Georgia On My Mind"

But the afternoon’s best "four" by far came right at the end. It comprised
pianist David Hazeltine, upright bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth
in support of tenor man Eric Alexander( making a return visit to the event
from last year). They made their take-no-prisoners philosophy abundantly clear
(amid high heat and humidity) from the opening number "Nemesis" (an Alexander
original) and scarcely let up from that point onward, careening through Hazeltine’s composition "Blueslike" and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s " Triste" before effecting
a palpable shift of gear on the Gene Ammons ballad, "Didn’t We" but even this
piece took on a gentle shuffle with time. The final two numbers saw the band
again off to the races, several in the audience more than happy to be swept along.

One can’t say enough about he pleasure of taking in an experienced, hard-swinging
group of musicians who are well acquainted with each other and committed to the
task of making straight-ahead jazz come alive. Within the overall group dynamic,
the band members conducted intricate dialogues (bass-piano; piano-drum; drum-sax)
without ever forgetting the audience before them. Farnsworth in particular,
reeling off stunningly fast tempos, still brought refinement and control to
his drumming, making meaningful comments on all of the drums, but particularly
in one extended display of lightning-fast cymbal work.

With the sun loosening its grip on the venue, the 15th staging of the Ocho Rios
Jazz Festival came to an end. Sonny and Myrna are undoubtedly missed (the
fraternity continues to pray in respect of Myrna’s illness), but it
was demonstrated that even without them, the show must go on.

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