The 2016 PDX JAZZ FESTIVAL in Portland Oregon
The 13th annual Jazz Festival featured the timeless work of the towering mid-20th-century saxist John Coltrane. The quest of the city of Portland to live a meaningful life challenges PDX Jazz to present audiences with compelling programming and community outreach, and to foster the growth of musical offerings in the Pacific Northwest.
The festival examined Coltrane’s dynasty thru a number of musical vantage points: family (Ravi Coltrane), legacy (Reggie Workman, and modern day masers associated with Coltrane’s music: Sonny Fortune, Azar Lawrence, Joe Lovano, JD Allen, Charles Lloyd, Javon Jackson, Orrin Evans, Chuck Israels, Mel Brown and Devin Philips.
One of the big events of the festival was The Saxophone Summit Supreme concert. It featured JD Allen, Devin Phillips, and Jimmy Greene, all heavily influenced by Coltrane. Pianist Orrin Evans trio was heard in two programs in a supporting role. Many jazz artists across a broad musical spectrum performed during the 11-day festival in Portland. Gary Peacock
made his Portland debut, and award-winning singer Dianne Reeves made a festival appearance. The festival was kicked off by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra and the duo of John Scofield and Joe Lovano had a reunion that brought back their great concert a part of the 2009 festival.
Kenny Barron appeared on a double bill with guitar virtuoso Pat Martino. Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band teamed up with Alicia Olatuja and the Thelonious Monk Competition winner Marquis Hill had a blazing tribute to trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. The Jazz
Forward Competition (in partnership with Portland State) drew aspiring students from the greater western region and showcased the brightest of tomorrow’s jazz stars. There were also many local jazz events thruout Portland during the festival and several Jazz Conversations and Panel Discussions, as well as some free performances.
Review of two of the Jazz Festival events – AFRO BRASS & SAXOPHONE SUMMIT
The 2016 Portland Jazz Festival honored John Coltrane’s legacy as its theme. This was accomplished through having John’s son, Ravi, assisting in the presentation of his father’s music. Bassist Reggie Workman who worked directly with Coltrane on some of his most creative discography, performed, as well as veterans who have been associated with carrying on the torch and being influenced with the direction that John led in post bop jazz genres.
When John moved to Impulse Records in 1961, he was given the opportunity to venture out to explore more avant garde leanings. This led to the most challenging recordings of his career. Coltrane passed away six years later having produced near 20 recordings for Impulse. Africa Brass was one of his initial projects for the label.
For this album Coltrane combined his interest in Africa with composing for heavy brass instruments. By including tuba, french horns, euphonium, baritone sax, and bass clarinet with the high register of flute and soprano sax, John could cover the complete gamut of burnished power with African polyrhythms provided by drummer Elvin Jones. To my knowledge it was his sole foray into composing an entire project for a large aggregation.
On Feb. 26, Portland Jazz Master, Charles Gray, conducted an eleven piece band in a rare performance of Africa Brass, first recorded 55 years ago. The rhythm section was made up of firebrand pianist Orrin Evans, along with bassist Luques Curtis and hot drummer Mark Whitfield, Jr. The eight-piece horn section was made up of some of the best Portland-based musicians including trombonist Stan Bock and trumpeter Paul Mazzio.
They acquitted themselves superbly in providing the punch to back Ravi. Orrin Evans was magisterial steering the ship with the ballast provided by Curtis and Whitfield. Hearing “Greensleeves” and “Africa” performed by French horns and tuba balanced by the keening soprano sax and tenor of Ravi was quite the experience.
Sunday afternoon was another chance to hear the straight ahead side of John Coltrane’s tenor sax. Veteran Joe Lovano (who played a later gig that night at Revolution Hall with John Scofield) introduced fellow tenor players, JD Allen, Jimmy Greene, and Portland’s own Devin Phillips. They were backed by Orrin Evans, Luques Curtis, and Mark Whitfield, Jr. Lovano stayed on stage for the opener, “Locomotion” and the four tenors burned through the changes. The pace escalated as choruses were traded.
Next was a chance for the remaining three tenors to show their lyrical Coltrane side with ballads. Especially moving was Devin Phillips passionate read on “Lonnie’s Lament,” as well as Jimmy Greene’s rendition of “Naima.”
REVIEW OF UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS CONCERT
After the death of John Coltrane, his wife Alice Coltrane gave a series of concerts featuring her harp compositions under the rubrik of Universal Consciousness. This is the mechanism for everything and Is Everything. Universal Consciousness has been described as spirit, light, love, nature, torsion and ether. Universal Consciousness experiences itself thru us.
Young harpist Brandyee Younger has been doing tributes to Alice Coltrane with herself on the concert harp. She performed at the Newmark Theater on February 27 as part of the PDX Jazz Festival. In the front row were Ravi Coltrane, Coltrane’s son, who
led the group, and veteran saxist Pharoah Sanders. The drums featured amazing drummer Andrew Cyrille. The concert
featured both numbers popularized by Alice Coltrane on her various recordings, and contemporary numbers, especially spotlighting Ravi and Pharoah. (His actual first name is Ferrell, but he thought he was introduced somewhere as Pharoah and adopted that name.) He explored new musical ideas which were often associated with East Indian and African musical traditions.
—Reviews by Jeff Krow & John Sunier; all photos by Mark Sheldon