New voices and sublime veterans

An insider's guide to the Jazz Fest
By JIM MACNIE  |  July 31, 2013



The kickoff to the Newport Jazz Festival often brings us superb vocalists, and this year is no different. Freddy Cole is one of the music’s most nuanced singers, an improviser who can wax imperative while delivering nothing but a hush (the superb Bill Charlap Trio backs the singer this evening). There’s a Freddy spin on “You’re Sensational” that I often go back to, and on the new This And That (High Note), he delivers a take on “It Was So Good While It Lasted” that redefines the term “bittersweet.” That last tune is associated with Nat Cole, Freddy’s famed brother and an icon who will loom over tonight’s show. The master’s daughter Natalie Cole headlines the program. Here’s to a niece-uncle pairing that allows room for plenty of subtlety.


The Newport Jazz Festival has brought a wealth of young talent to its annual program during the last several years. Lefties and envelope-pushers have definitely been a part of the Fort Adams family, even if you have to arrive perfectly on time to catch them. That’s the case this weekend. The must-see Mary Halvorson Quintet is led by an acclaimed young guitarist who is widening the instrument’s vocabulary. She started turning heads in New York a few years ago, and now guides a handful of ensembles that make some of the most exhilarating small band music around. The group pairs Halvorson’s supple trio with brass and reeds, and the unusual interplay bristles with invention — their Bending Bridges was one of last year’s best albums. As was Inana (Pi), by Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers. The trumpeter threads Middle Eastern motifs into a brass and reeds dynamic that boasts an Ornette Coleman feel, and their music on Inana percolates as it tips the hat to a Mesopotamian sex goddess.

Rez Abbasi is another NYC guitarist broadening his instrument’s grammar with Middle Eastern music allusions, such as Qawwali. By incorporating the music of his heritage (Abbasi was born in Pakistan and raised in SoCal), he’s injecting new rhythmic life into a standard trio approach. Check Continuous Beat (Enja) for fireworks.

Blending the old and new is something that Ray Anderson has done for three decades. The master trombonist will bring his Pocket Brass Band to Newport; their Sweet Chicago Suite (Intuition) is an exemplar of raucousness being rooted. The squall created by the horns (sousaphone, trumpet, and ’bone) simultaneously harks to N’awlins polyphony and free jazz exclamation. Drummer Bobby Previte gives every honk a groove to ride.

You can expect a bit more NOLA in the air when the Bill Charlap Trio opens its arms to reed players Bob Wilber and Anat Cohen. Wilber’s soprano nods to the lyrical intensity of the Crescent City’s Sidney Bechet, and there’s bound to be an homage or three in the set.

Trumpeter Terence Blanchard is a native of New Orleans, and though he writes everything from operas to soundtracks, his deeply swinging jazz always has a lot of down-home swagger.

If it’s a beat you want, the Robert Glasper Experiment is down to fulfill. The terrific pianist has spent his celebrated career splitting the diff between hip-hop and swing, and last year’s Black Radio (Blue Note) refined the latter approach well enough to walk away with the Grammy for R&B Album of the Year. Limber up your neck; the head-bobbing will commence upon his first note.

Speaking of Grammy winners with the word “radio” in their album title, Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society is another outfit that brings jazz structures and solos to a prog R&B dynamic.

Perhaps the day’s most dramatic moments will come from the Wayne Shorter Quartet. The sage composer-saxophonist is celebrating his 80th birthday, riding a rather incredible new album, Without a Net (Blue Note), and inviting his old pal Herbie Hancock to be part of a foursome that already features pianist Danilo Pérez. The group is known for burrowing into the heart of their creations, and a recent Manhattan show reminded us just how intricate their collective maneuvers are. Every show is a master class in group chemistry.

Lew Tabackin, Michel Camilo, Gregory Porter, and Edmar Castaneda round out today’s bill.

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