Coming Attractions in Jazz: Midsummer Festivals 2012

By J. R. Carroll.

Updated: Brazilian jazz vocalist Leny Andrade performs at the Deer Isle Jazz Festival on Saturday, July 28. The first half of July, dominated by Independence Day festivities, is—fireworks aside—pretty quiet in New England. (Of course, the massive Montreal Jazz Festival utterly dwarfs any jazz festival this side of the border, even Newport.) But then the festival season really kicks into gear.

The action starts on the north bank of the Charles with the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center’s Boomtown Festival. The strong lineup of free evening concerts from 6-7:30 p.m. features the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society on Monday, July 16; the New World Jazz Composers Octet on Tuesday, July 17; and flutist Fernando Brandão and his Brazilian ensemble (pianist Tim Ray, bassist Fernando Huergo, and drummer Bertram Lehmann) on Thursday, July 19.

Percussionist Jorge Arce

Jorge Arce celebrates Puerto Rico’s bomba, plena and danza traditions.

Right next door, Somerville’s annual ArtBeat festival presents performances at locations around Davis Square (the Seven Hills Stage is behind the Somerville Theatre, and the Elm Street Stage is at the corner of Elm and Chester Streets) on Friday and Saturday, July 20 and 21. Friday night’s lineup includes Klezwoods at the Seven Hills Stage at 7 p.m. Saturday afternoon provides a taste of Cape Verde at 3 p.m. (Cruzamente at the Seven Hills Stage), Brazil at 3:30 p.m. (Samba Viva at the Elm Street Stage), and Puerto Rico at 5 p.m. (Jorge Arce and Raíz de Plena at the Seven Hills Stage).

Across the river in Boston’s South End, Villa Victoria is the host for the annual celebration of Latino culture, Festival Betances, from Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22. If you’ve enjoyed Miguel Zenón’s recent explorations of Puerto Rican jíbaro music, bomba and plena, and classic popular songs, you’ll have a chance to hear all these styles over the course of the weekend. And, of course, there’ll be salsa, including vocalists Osvaldo Roman and Mel Martinez (in no way to be confused with the former Florida senator), the latter paying tribute to the late Frankie Ruiz.

Born in Louisiana of Greek and Irish ancestry, saxophonist and vocalist (in English, Spanish, and Portuguese) Layla Angulo has some extra seasonings in her gumbo, including Afro-Peruvian and Brazilian; she opens the Greater Hartford Festival of Jazz on Friday, July 20, at 7 p.m. Stick around at 8:30 p.m. for the formidable Latin Jazz Orchestra of her sometime collaborator, trumpeter Steven Oquendo (related, I believe, to the great timbalero Manny Oquendo).

The Hartford festival’s Saturday line-up is pretty heavy on “smooth jazz,” but Sunday, July 22, closes out the festival with some interesting performers, including vocalist Dana Lauren at 4:30 p.m., the Yoruba-meets-Yeshiva sounds of the Afro-Semitic Experience at 6 p.m., and wrapping up at 7:30 p.m. with saxophonist Jimmy Greene performing original compositions and arrangements with the strings of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

The Lincoln Arts Festival Jazz Weekend at the Opera House in Boothbay Harbor, ME, is a modest affair, but if you’re visiting the area, you might want to check out trumpeter Mark Tipton and his Quintet on Friday, July 20, at 8 p.m.

At the other end of the New England coastline, on the shores of Buzzards Bay, the Onset Beach Jazz Festival returns on Saturday, July 21, from 1 to 7 p.m. Highlights include the impressive young pianist/composer Kozue Kuriyama and the seriously funky Jazz Thugs.

The final weekend in July brings the annual Lowell Folk Festival with many outstanding performers, including a few of particular interest to a jazz audience. Bomba/plena specialist Jorge Arce literally leads the parade with a Comparsa Boricua on Friday, July 27, at 6:40 p.m. and again on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. The all-star Klezmer Orchestra International that Brooklyn clarinetist Michael Winograd has assembled performs on Saturday, July 28, at 2 p.m. and again on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. The powerful Zimbabwean singer/songwriter/guitarist Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi makes appearances at 5 and 8:45 p.m. on Saturday, July 28, and again on Sunday at 3 p.m. Up from Brazil’s nordeste, Quarteto Olinda brings its authentic forró de rabeca to Lowell at noon and 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 28, and again at 1 and 4:15 p.m. on Sunday. Topping it all off is a visit by the great New Orleans pianist and vocalist Davell Crawford and his trio, with shows on Saturday, July 28, at 8 p.m. and again at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

The Boston Globe abandoned its long-running annual jazz festival back in 2004, and WGBH’s recent cutbacks in jazz programming prompted a New Orleans-style jazz funeral outside its studios, so there is tremendous irony in their cosponsoring (with Citizens Bank) a Summer Arts Weekend (July 27–29) that includes the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, vocalist Irma Thomas, and the Soul Rebels Brass Band. Don’t be too surprised if some of the Boston jazz community’s saints come marching in at some point.

Updated. Maine’s Deer Isle Jazz Festival gets off to a fabulous start with a performance by the incomparable Brazilian jazz vocalist Leny Andrade and her dazzling trio (fellow Brazilians Nilson Matta on bass and Café on percussion along with Israeli guitarist Roni Ben-Hur) at 7 p.m. at the Stonington Opera House on Saturday, July 28. If you arrive a bit early (3:30 p.m.), you can participate in a free batucada workshop and parade led by Café.

The festival continues the following Friday, August 3, at 7 p.m., turning loose Jazz Passengers saxophonist Roy Nathanson, assisted by beatboxer Napoleon Maddox (a.k.a. NapoleonSolo) and local poets and musicians, for an evening that blends spoken word and jazz. Nathanson returns the next evening at 7 p.m. with his Sotto Voce project, and then peerless pianist’s pianist’s pianist Kenny Barron brings the festival to a close at 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 5.

Looking south to Newport, RI, we arrive at the 800-pound gorilla of American festivals, still going strong—like its founder, George Wein—after more than half a century. Call August 3 vendredi gras—it’s as overstuffed as a po’ boy. Dr. John joins up with fellow New Orleans keyboard wizard Jon Cleary for the 8 p.m. concert, followed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with special guests vocalist Catherine Russell and pianist Jonathan Batiste.

On Saturday and Sunday, the action shifts to Newport’s Fort Adams State Park starting at 11 a.m. The park has three separate stages, but who plays where when hasn’t been announced, so leave a lot of room for serendipity and Dr. Heisenberg’s principle. Oh, and frustration, too, as it probably isn’t humanly possible to hear everyone who plays at Newport—and, this year for sure, almost everything is well worth hearing.

One of the nifty aspects of the line-up is the way some of the performers show up in two or more different contexts:

Some of the artists add a little twist to their most familiar configurations. Guitarist Pat Metheny folds saxophonist Chris Potter into his Unity Band; vocalist Diane Reeves brings along Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, who appeared on her most recent CD; trumpeter Dave Douglas and saxophonist Joe Lovano reunite in their Sound Prints quintet project; and saxophonist James Carter’s Organ Trio expands to a quintet with guitarist Rodney Jones and vocalist Miche Braden.

There’s a strong Latin jazz contingent at Newport this year, with groups led by drummer Dafnis Prieto, percussionist Pedrito Martinez, and saxophonist Miguel Zenón. There are bands led by veteran drummer Lewis Nash and by an emerging artist, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. There’s serious New Orleans funk with John Ellis and Double-Wide, and the double-barreled blues of on- and offstage couple Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. And there are even retro sounds of the Roaring Twenties with Boardwalk Empire’s house band, Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.

Finally, Newport 2012 showcases the cream of contemporary big bands—Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and the Maria Schneider Orchestra—and caps it all off with Ryan Truesdell’s Centennial Project celebrating the man who made them possible, Gil Evans.

Then take a deep breath and get ready for the late summer jazz festivals; check back here in a few weeks for all the details.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts