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 Wednesday, 30 July 2014
Twin Cities Jazz Festival – 12th Annual Tops Them All PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Monday, 21 June 2010

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Mears Park, Main Stage©Andrea Canter

For the twelfth time, area jazz fans, general music fans, and folks just out for some free fun found plenty to enjoy at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival, formerly the Hot Summer Jazz Festival. And formerly, it was a two-weekend, two-city affair. The flailing economy as well as some loss of enthusiasm on the west side of the river nearly brought the festival to a halt a year ago, but thanks to producer Steve Heckler, the city of St. Paul, and some renewed corporate support, the festival was reborn in 2009 at Mears Park in St. Paul’s Lowertown. 

Some have lamented that the festival is now limited to one city, one weekend, but there’s considerable evidence that this might be the recipe for success. Focusing the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in St Paul seems to have given the event a new cohesiveness and collaborative spirit—it’s more like jazz. And Minneapolis residents apparently are not shy about coming east to their sister metroplex. This year, with more sponsors, the festival added a second stage along Sixth Street, carefully scheduled such that as soon as the set ended on the main stage, a new set began on Sixth, the two never competing with each other. You could stay in your chair (your own or one of the many set up in the big rectangle in front of the main stage) and hear the music as it was piped into the big speakers in the park, or you could move the 100 yards or so and grab a chair or just stand along the edges and watch as well as listen to the mostly local bands on the new stage. And after a one-year hiatus, the Youth Stage returned, again sponsored by the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education, now housed within Cray (Galtier) Plaza’s central atrium.  

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Joe Lovano©Andrea Canter
It was an ambitious line-up, perhaps the strongest in years or maybe the strongest ever. Saxophone reigned with Joe Lovano (Us Five), Bobby Watson, John Ellis (Double Wide) and young Aakash Mittal from Denver, along with local saxmen Pete Whitman and Ronny Loew. Trumpet got its due, with firebrand Sean Jones on the main stage and Dan Frankowski’s Frankhouse down the street at the “festival annex” at the Hat Trick Lounge. And the whole event was capped by the uniquely eclectic guitar master, John Scofield, here with his funky New Orleans Piety Street Band. Maybe less vocal music than usual, the quality was as high as ever with Connie Evingson and Charmin Michelle fronting the Parisota Hot Club and Twin Cities Seven, respectively. 

The music was inspiring, the weather was uniformly gorgeous for a rare two consecutive days, the crowds bigger than at any previous Mears Park event, the food many cuts above typical festival fare (and never enough—another measure of the size of the crowd). Favorites? Everyone will have their own list. Mine: 

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    Sean Jones©Andrea Canter
    The high energy and joy of Sean Jones and his virtuosic partners (Orrin Evans on piano, Luques Curtis on bass,  Obed Calviere on drums, and a star of the future, Brian Hogans on sax). A surprise treat was the “walk-on” appearance of  Bobby Watson, who joined the band briefly as a prelude to his Saturday set. Jones and company had shared that energy earlier in the day with a free clinic at Walker West Music Academy.
 
  • Living legend Joe Lovano leading one of the most lauded small ensembles in modern jazz, Us Five. Even without usual bassist, the dynamic Esperanza Spalding (on “leave” for the summer with her own projects), the creative compositions and unusual instrumentation of two trapsets kept the energy initiated by Jones at a high level for the Friday night finale. Lovano, hampered last winter by two broken arms following two freakish and coincidental accidents, seemed as strong as ever on tenor and taragato, and his cohorts provided the same intensity and interplay that brought their 2009 debut recording, Folk Art, to the top of many Best of the Year lists. And although he lacks the drama of Esperanza, young Peter Slavov ably took over the bass chair, while pianist James Weidman and drummers Francisco Mela and Otis Brown II filled out the ensemble, its collaborative nature validating the name, Us Five. Lovano also led a free clinic the next afternoon at McNally Smith College of Music.
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    MnJEA Mid-Level Honors Band©Andrea Canter
     
  • Perhaps the most creative set of the weekend belonged to young Aakash Mittal and his quartet. Based in the Denver area, Mittal has been melding his Coltrane-influenced post bop with recent explorations of his Indian heritage, using ragas and other classical Indian forms as the foundation for compositions that range from frenetic traffic jams to soulful meditations.
 
  • It’s always a treat to hear Pete Whitman’s X-Tet and for once they were able to fit onto the stage in full!
 
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    Bobby Watson©Andrea Canter
    The Youth Stage at Cray presented seven outstanding ensembles of students from middle school (the Mid Level Honors Band of the Minnesota Jazz Educators Association, sounding like a longstanding band after just one four-hour rehearsal) through early college level (BFGS, aka Jake Baldwin, Rob Fletcher, Cory Grindberg and Joe Strachan), along with mostly high school level students in the Twin Cities Youth Jazz Camp band, St. Cloud Area All-Star Jazz Band, St. Paul Central High School jazz band, the Dakota Combo, and two trios headed by recent scholarship winners in the Jazz Piano Competition. Sponsored by the Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education, the stage inside the Cray Atrium was buzzing with enthusiasm from noon til nearly 8 pm, the seating area usually overflowing. And in addition to these seven ensembles, the main stage hosted two Walker West ensembles and another from cosponsor McNally Smith. Clearly there is a never-ending supply of jazz artists to fill festival stages for years to come.
 

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Young jazz fan©Andrea Canter
I heard a lot more, and there was a lot more I did not hear at all. Like any good jazz festival, at some point tough decisions must be made—which band, which venue do I go to next? Can I hear half of this set and still get to another stage before another band is done? Or should I just park myself in one spot, knowing I’ll be happy and less frenzied? Such win-win dilemmas define a successful jazz festival. The 2010 TCJF was perhaps the most successful yet. Trumpet fanfares to producer Steve Heckler and his crew.  And mark your calendars for 2011, the third weekend in June, Mears Park and beyond.

Parts of this review are adapted from Andrea Canter’s June 20th blog at www.jazzink.blogspot.com  
 



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