Erik Jacobs for NPR
Maria Schneider. Erik Jacobs for NPR
At this year's 2010 CareFusion Newport Jazz Festival, Alex W. Rodriguez of WBGO and Patrick Jarenwattananon are serving as production assistants for the NPR Music/WBGO/WGBH live webcast and recording. Between running files and documents from stage to stage, they got to see a little music. They met up late on Saturday night over IM to discuss what went on during the first day of the festival. Also, be sure to check out our full coverage of the festival, including photos, archived downloads and more, at npr.org/newportjazz. —Ed.
Patrick Jarenwattananon: Ok Alex. What was the best thing you saw today?
Alex W. Rodriguez: You'd think that being stuck in the Aura Sonic production truck listening to the set three or four times would lessen the impact, but I'm still going with Maria Schneider. Her writing just blows my mind every time.
Although I caught a little bit of That Other Big Band, Darcy James Argue's Secret Society, and they tore it up as well. The dynamics, the balance of composition and individual brilliance, it's all there with both of those bands.
PJ: Agreed! But first, explain to the good people what you were doing in that truck?
AR: In the truck, it was my job to follow along with Maria's scores and help direct the remix of the live set, so that it could air later in the evening as our closing set for the broadcast. So what you hear is actually a second mix, touched up from the live recording that we made earlier that morning.
PJ: So basically, you spent mad time with those scores, really learning her music, eh?
AR: Yeah, it was definitely a different perspective, following along visually while taking in the music. And having to focus and really make sure I knew what was happening at any given moment, and what was coming up next.
PJ: See, for me, watching Maria ... Maria's band is like therapy of some sort, you know? It's like it washes over you, and just lifts you with its overwhelming majesty. I almost don't want to look at her scores, unearth the wizard behind the curtain.
AR: Seeing it all unfold visually, though, is kind of awesome — it's like that Youtube video of the Coltrane "Giant Steps" solo, notated along as he plays ... you've seen that, right?
PJ: Yea, true.
AR: But it did seem like I was missing out, being in there all afternoon — anything you caught that I really should regret not seeing?
PJ: Well, you know Maria was on the main Fort stage, but a lot of excellent stuff was on the side stages. Julian Lage, for example. This kid — he's 22, younger than us by like 3 years! — totally killing on guitar. But not only is he totally killing — he's a really imaginative composer too!
AR: The best thing about him, though, from what I've heard is the fact that he doesn't give off that prodigy vibe. I mean he's a ridiculous musician ...
PJ: Acoustic and electric, sure.
AR: But I don't think I'd peg him at 22.
PJ: Absolutely. He comports himself like he's been on the scene (he has), and he has a sort of personal vision about shaping his sound.
And it's just a lot of fun too. I mean, it draws from folk, and bluegrass, and Django-style hot jazz (Mark O'Connor had him in his Hot Swing group in the preceding set) to create this amalgam. This one tune, "Lil Darlin'," was performed as a trio. Julian on guitar, Jorge Roeder on acoustic bass, and Tupac Mantilla playing percussion — ON THE SAME ACOUSTIC BASS SIMULTANEOUSLY
AR: Sounds like one I'll be checking out when I get home.
PJ: Yea totally. Which reminds
PJ: Tupac Mantilla was one of three killin' cajon players I saw today.
AR: Who knew you could get so many sounds out of a wooden box? Maria Schneider had two going at the same time during one point of her set. In her case, it was specifically evoking the instrument's Afro-Peruvian roots, but jazz musicians are using it even more broadly.
PJ: Yea man. I presume you saw how Darcy James Argue's drummer Jon Wikan, who also guested with Maria, hooked up a wah-wah pedal to his cajon for this spacey, woody sound?
AR: That's the first sound you hear on his debut album, Infernal Machines — quite a memorable opening.
PJ: And then Mark Small burns that sax solo ... Hey, free association: saxophone trios! Two of 'em today: JD Allen Trio and Fly. Both great, and a study in contrasts.
AR: Yeah I am a huge fan of what JD Allen does, he is so in control and creates a real sonic concept. The three of them (Allen with bassist Gregg August and Rudy Royston) play almost continuously, with short musical ideas all woven together. They groove hard the whole time, even during August's trippy bass solos. Not only that, but I saw evidence of some serious booty shaking during some of it as well!
PJ: Well, you know, JD once said in an interview that he feels like that gets him closer to great black music of the past, hearing that bass and drum feel so present and responding to it. The other sax-bass-drums group, Fly, is significantly different.
AR: Yeah, I didn't catch that one.
PJ: They groove hard a lot too — Jeff Ballard's ride cymbal, and his snare accents, are so perfectly colorful. But it's not in the same slash and burn, cruisin' for a bruisin' way that the JD Allen trio takes it.
It's a collaborative band, right? So everyone writes tunes, and it doesn't feel like Mark Turner controls the proceedings at all. The tunes that get written are much longer in form, and they stretch out for a longer time, and less obviously bluesy.
AR: Definitely a contrast from Allen's group.
PJ: It's floating, and feels ephemeral in that pleasantly wistful way. If it had been in a stage by the sea, instead of inside Fort Adams (!) it'd have been perfect.
All right. So what are you looking to catch tomorrow?
AR: Well, first and foremost will be my teacher and mentor Conrad Herwig's Newport debut.
PJ: You dragged me out to see his group once when I came up to New York. Very glad you did. The "Latin Side" band, as it were?
AR: Yeah, Conrad is one of the few jazz people with a really deep and experiential grasp of salsa, having played with Eddie Palmieri for many years. But there's lots of great stuff happening tomorrow, and a wide variety as well: from vocalist Gretchen Parlato (who I have yet to hear live, only dug her album In A Dream) to Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy, which suits the brass musician in me quite well. And Matt Wilson ... you'll just have to listen to understand how ridiculous that guy is.
PJ: Yea man. Well, there's also plenty of spectacle supported by first-rate musicianship tomorrow. There's Wilson, the drummer, with string quartet and vocalist. There's Wynton Marsalis + Dave Brubeck. Dave Brubeck! And there's Ken Vandermark, who really brought the house down last year with his Vandermark 5, even if it was crazy free jazz — people dug it. His Powerhouse Sound group is coming this year to bring tha noize.
AR: OK you win.
PJ: What do I win?
AR: A lobster roll?
PJ: I'll take it.