I actually had a request to provide an overview of the Iowa City Jazz Festival
, so of course I must oblige. Was planning to do this anyway, but a little urging never hurts....
This was the 7th year we attended the festival. While I've heard a lot of fantastic groups over the years, I'm not sure this was my favorite year for featured performers. Of course everyone was excellent, musically, but some of the groups got a little too "experimental" for my taste. I'm by no means a jazz purist, but for me, a little bit of dissonance goes a long way. Here's the rundown:FRIDAYUnited Jazz Ensemble, The FunkDaddies
(didn't arrive until Sat., so sorry...no feedback!)SATURDAYAshanti
This group apparently began in 1983 by a bunch of Berklee students. Founding member Gabriel Espinosa moved to Iowa and resurrected the band in the Heartland. I liked Ashanti a lot. Excellent "authentic" Latin grooves and a good deal of variety. The group had a female vocalist but used her sparingly. When she sang she sounded good. She could also play a shaker in time (it's true, not all musicians can do this!) This was one of my favorite groups...great way to start the Saturday portion of the festival.JUICE Big Band
FYI, it's pronounced "juice" not "juicy." (Juicy sounds cooler though.) A local band led by composer/trombonist John Rapson. While the musicians were obviously very accomplished and the arrangements were quite intricate, this was the day's introduction to some bizarre jazz. The tunes were lengthy and each supposedly had a story to tell. I did begin to get tired of clashing chords, sparse melodies, and solos that were sometimes just plain weird.Kim Richmond & Clay Jenkins Ensemble
Why did I think Richmond was a smooth jazz guy? He's anything but. He sounded good, but for some strange reason I'm not recalling much from his performance. I will say that somehow he reminded me of John Lithgow, both in appearance and the way he spoke.Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
These guys are crazy! Really. A trio of piano, electric bass, and drums, they really put on a show. Though the music was a bit zany I have to admit I liked it quite a bit. The sound guy, however, ruined it by cranking the bass drum, causing listeners to receive a slam to the chest every time the drummer used the kick drum. This was annoying and definitely detracted from the band's esoteric yet totally creative appearance. I'd check them out again if the opportunity arose.Kenny Garrett Quartet
Go Kenny! Woah, Kenny! Always the energetic altoist with a larger than life, robust sound, Garrett entertained us with his fast fingers, intense solos, and calisthenics (if you've ever seen him perform you know what I mean). He had several young players with him, including the most animated drummer I've ever seen. The kid knocked over a few cymbal stands at one point in time, causing 2 stage hands to rush forth and try to put the set back together. The band primarily performed hip-hop stuff, not so much the burnin' tunes like you'll find on "Songbook" or the light, melodic jazz on "Simply Said." I think it was because the group was headlining on Saturday night and the audience likes to hear something a bit more partyesque. It was good though. Gotta love the "real" Kenny G!SUNDAYSusie Miget Group
Unfortunately, we missed Susie. (And I guess it's pronounced "Mih-shay" not "Midget"...oops.)We were having lunch at Panera and it was raining at the time, so we didn't venture downtown until after her set was over. I heard it was good, though, even though the band played intermittently between showers. Susie sings and play bass, as my dad learned while they were outside catching a smoke together at the Super 8 earlier that morning.The X-Tet
Led by saxophonist/composer/educator Chris Mertz, this 10-piece group also performed a host of original compositions that were quite involved. Great soloists, interesting arrangements, and an overall good band. I was left longing for a nice, easy melody by the end, though.Henry Threadgill's Zooid
I heard my first-ever oud on this day. The other musicians played acoustic guitar, cello, tuba, drums, and flute & sax. This was definitely weird stuff and we had to get up and walk around at this point. I was really starting to crave something melodic...Eric Alexander Quintet
...and I got it with Eric. These guys saved the day! Swingin' sax, organ, guitar, and drums were literally music to my ears. I think I'm going to become a big Eric Alexander fan. He's got a beautiful tenor tone and plays the way I'd like to. He knows jazz, for sure, and he doesn't abandon melodic statements because he's bored with them. Fabulous job!Conrad Herwig & Brian Lynch: The Latin Side of Miles
This band sounded excellent, too. A nice way to end the festival...I liked Herwig, and Lynch sounded fabulous too. The drummer & conga player worked extremely well together, and left my head spinning with their rhythmic interpretations of Latin fare.
All in all it was a good festival. Of course we'll be back next year. I just hope they have the vendor with corn on the cob there (he skipped town this summer). I did sample an excellent pork chop sandwich and some superb black cherry ice cream at Whitey's. And the porta potties were clean. (Hey, it ain't all about the music!)