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Review: Local acts enliven San Jose Jazz Festival

Wally Schnalle
Wally Schnalle
David Becker

I admit it -- I'm an old guy, and it takes a little more each year to pry me out of my orthopedic chair. Which is one of the reasons I appreciate the San Jose Jazz Festival. Along with the headliners on the lawn, the recently concluded shindig has numerous smaller stages featuring mostly Bay Area talent. With a little planning and walking, you can cram in the equivalent of a month or two of club dates in one long afternoon.

Some gleanings from Saturday's action at the festival:

Michael Bellar and the AS-IS Ensemble: Who says you need a Hammond B-3 to be an organ trio? Veteran keyboardist Bellar mostly stuck to the Fender Rhodes as he and his trio churned out a set of swirling, hard-rocking originals that had that organ trio energy but with an even hipper edge. Even when Bellar tackled "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as a curious look back to his former employer, Art Garfunkle.

Michael O'Neill Quintet with Kenny Washington: Vocalist Kenny Washington is one smooooth cat. Which makes him the perfect augmentation for veteran sax man O'Neill's hard-bopping group. Put 'em together, and you have a perfectly balanced machine to both celebrate and explore standards like "Dinah" and "Caravan."

Marta Lledo Quartet: Lledo is a classically trained composer from Argentina who relocated to the Bay Area a few years ago. And her thing is combining motifs from Beethoven, Chopin and the like with driving Latin jazz rhythms. And it works! Credit the pianist's dramatic style or the driving power of percussionist Juan Escovedo, but it was impossible not to get carried along as the combo did its thing. Even when Lledo had the audacity/brilliance to combine Rachmaninoff (I think) with "Tico Tico."

Wally Schnalle's Idiot Fish: Idiot Fish is the latest vehicle for veteran drummer/educator Wally Schnalle, and it's a perfect buggy to combine his fascination with electronic effects and sampling with the hard-driving style of fusion he does best. Add in, as far as we know, the festival's only trip-out video accompaniment, and you get a massive pile of groovaliciousness.