But when tradition and nostalgia are treated with the wit and sass artists showed for everything from boogie-woogie to fusion, it was nearly impossible to get worked up. As opposed to one more round of exhuming the spirit of John Coltrane, artists were working with forms that have yet to be canonized and therefore allow ample room personal adaptations.
Sure, jazz needs new ideas to thrive and all that. But for the weekend, old was new and jazz seemed in mighty fine shape.
Evidence gathered Sunday:
- No matter how you feel about her less-than-elastic vocal tone, you have to admire headliner Diana Krall for the way she's created her own thing out of familiar materials. Initially a standards singer in the piano bar tradition, she reacted to her initial burst of fame by puzzling fans with several albums of mostly new material decidedly lacking in ring-a-ding-ding. Sunday's set showed a confident, mature artist who can jump from a 1920s novelty tune to a Tom Waits song and make it seem completely natural. Krall's enthusiasm and piano chops ensured that she had the audience fully on her side even before she gave a generous dose of attention to standards such as "Peel Me a Grape."
- Tradition seemed all the more appealing after saxophone legend Wayne Shorter's innovative but underwhelming set. Shorter has settled into a composition/performing style that's at once fragmentary and unified on a giant scale. The artist, working entirely with soprano sax, kept reassembling bits of motif and melody in a piece that seemed to have no beginning, end or obvious structure. The organic wholeness of the approach was impressive -- you get the feeling Shorter will still be playing the piece next time he shows up in the area -- but boundaries do help one understand what's going on. Shorter's playing was surprisingly understated, too, with most of the occasional sparks coming from drummer Brian Blade.
- On the other side of the aging saxophone legend coin, all hail to Lou Donaldson, working with a high-octane organ trio as he charmed his way through blues, bebop and a lot in between. He's a grand raconteur and a bit of a critic, too, as encapsulated by this song introduction: "Not recommended for fusion musicians, 'cause you got to practice to play this stuff. Getting high and wearing baseball caps ain't gonna make it happen."
- MJF should waste no time in booking Minneapolis boogie-woogie tornado Davina and the Vagabonds for the Saturday afternoon slot on the main stage next year (assuming Trombone Shorty is busy). The group had more than enough of the good-time energy that spot demands, and singer/pianist Davina Sowers has charisma to spare.
- Post-bop, straightahead jazz is a well-plowed field, but it can still sound fresh and exciting when played with the intelligence and rhythmic drive of local heroes Along Came Betty.
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