Jazz Preview: The 2014 Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival

From noon to six on Saturday, September 27, Boston’s premier outdoor jazz event, the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival, returns to Boston’s South End for a fourteenth year, with drummer Terri Lyne Carrington back at the helm again as the artistic director.

A BeanTown Panorama

A BeanTown Panorama.

By J. R. Carroll

Given all the young musicians from around the world who flock to Boston to study jazz at Berklee, NEC, and other conservatories and universities in the area, the official theme of this year’s festival—”Jazz: The Global Ambassador”—would seem to apply almost any year. This is certainly manifest in 2014 with a roster rooted in Brazil (Marcus Santos), Chile (Melissa Aldana), Italy (Marco Pignataro), Japan (the Sapporo Junior Jazz School Band), and Puerto Rico (Miguel Zenón), alongside multicultural mashups like Snarky Puppy, Federator No. 1, and Sheila E.

As usual, performances will take place simultaneously on three different stages, with the BeanTown Stage and the Berklee Stage at opposite ends of Columbus Avenue, and the Natixis Global Asset Management Stage overlooking the open field adjacent to Columbus. (Here’s a link to the complete schedule.) If you prefer to settle in at one location, the best bet is probably the Berklee Stage, whose lineup includes Marco Pignataro, Ambrose Akinmusire, Miguel Zenón, and the Yoron Israel/Bill Pierce Quintet. But if you don’t mind putting some steps on your pedometer, here’s a tour that will bring in many of the most interesting performers at the festival.

Start off at noon at the Berklee Stage with a set by saxophonist Marco Pignataro’s Jazzet, featuring longtime Bill Evans bassist Eddie Gomez (who also produced Pignataro’s most recent CD, Sofia’s Heart).

At 1:15 p.m. we come to our first coin-flip of the day.

Stay at the Berklee Stage and you can catch one of the most original and accomplished young trumpeters on the scene, Oakland-born Ambrose Akinmusire. He’ll be in the intuitive company of his long-standing quintet: Walter Smith (tenor sax), Sam Harris (piano), Harish Raghavan (bass), and Justin Brown (drums).

For something completely different, though, wander over to the BeanTown stage for the Screaming Headless Torsos (yes, you read that correctly), the brainchild of guitarist David “Fuze” Fiuczynski. He and vocalist Freedom Bremner, bassist David Ginyard, and percussionist Daniel Sadownick are joined by a shifting cast of intrepid drummers (including Gene Lake, Skoota Warner, and James “Biscuit” Rouse) for their unique brand of jazz-metal-funk fusion.

For the next slot on the schedule, at 2:30 p.m., the nod has to go to alto saxophonist (and MacArthur Fellow) Miguel Zenón and his frequent compadres Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischnig (bass), and Henry Cole (drums). Fresh off a large-ensemble Newport performance of his ambitious Identities Are Changeable, Zenón and his quartet continue their deep investigations of the richness of Puerto Rican culture.

At 3:40 p.m., walk your doggies over to the Natixis Global Asset Management Stage for the elastic consortium known as Snarky Puppy. If your only introduction to the pups was their CD/DVD package Family Dinner, you might be a bit disappointed when Lalah Hathaway and the other high-octane vocalists from that recording (most likely) don’t materialize (although who knows what Terri Lyne might pull out of her high hat). This is your opportunity, though, to discover why this boundary-busting crew of Texans and Brooklynites has generated so much buzz and packed so many houses on their own in recent years.

For the final performance of the afternoon, it’s back once more to the Berklee Stage at 5 p.m. Over the years, drummer Yoron Israel and saxophonist Bill Pierce played on numerous occasions with the late pianist James Williams; they and their quintet will pay tribute to Williams with a full set of his gospel-inflected compositions.

(Very) alternatively, also at 5 p.m., the BeanTown Stage will feature the electronic intimacies and intricacies of the intriguing ensemble known as Kneebody.

As an epilogue to the festival, Kneebody and Snarky Puppy—in addition to their Saturday appearances—will share a complete evening at the Berklee Performance Center on Sunday, September 28, at 8 p.m.

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