Sunday, August 14, 2022

Inaugural Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival Dazzles L.A. Music Revelers | PHOTOs

Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival (2022)
Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival (2022)

*Southern California music festival lovers got their wish fulfilled the final weekend of June with the inaugural Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival – an event that picks right up where the longstanding Playboy Jazz Festival left off just before two years of COVID pandemic purgatory. Two days of warm yet breezy 80+ degree afternoons segueing into cozy comfortable evenings set the scene at the 100-year-old Hollywood Bowl for spicy, eclectic and electrifying offerings from a dynamic selection of musicians.

Arsenio Hall
Arsenio Hall

Host for the weekend’s proceedings was Arsenio Hall who was quite comfortable in the role, acclimated as he was from hanging out with George Lopez on the sidelines when that comedian helmed the Playboy Jazz Festival. He did a great job of swiftly and respectfully introducing each act, making the transitions seamless and soulful. The only quibble here is it prevented the bands from having that cool moment of already playing as the stage spun them around which – when done effectively – can be an exciting way to begin.

SATURDAY
Opening Day was a big party, kicking off with the L.A. County High School for the Arts band. These young men and women were outstanding, performing an impressive mix of material that pivoted from the exquisite Thad Jones ballad “To You” to a rousing version of Marvin Gaye’s ever-relevant “What’s Going On.”

The following band, Jungle Fire, typified the energy that would follow most of the day. This instrumental ensemble should rename itself to ‘Action Film Fire.’ Their fun. racing material (titles including “Chalupa,” “Firewalker,” “Village Hustle” and “Atomico”) was highly groove-oriented and sounded less Latin and more like music perfectly suited for car chases and gritty inner-city scenarios.

Pianist/Composer Gerald Clayton and a group consisting of modern stars Marquis Hill on trumpet, Logan Richardson on alto saxophone, Ben Williams on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums, provided the day’s purest presentation of Jazz early on with a richly engaging set of songs that reflected grace and thankfulness for living through the pains and sufferings of pasts both recent and ancient. Songs included “Water’s Edge,” “Peace Invocation,” “A Light” and “Frederick Douglass.”

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Azar Lawrence
Azar Lawrence

Saxophonist Azar Lawrence’s Experience covered a wide range of Black African rooted music from the Avant-garde to the urban radio-ready. The music was largely instrumental with singer Lynne Fiddmont providing wordless lead melody lines and overall exuberance. The band also included Chris Lowery on trumpet, his brother Wes Lowery on drums, Dale Williams on guitar, Robert Turner on keys, Michael Alvidrez on bass, Samson Olawale on percussion and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. Describing his band, his latest album New Sky and his current musical direction, Azar shared, “When I started out, Elvin Jones took me out of L.A. to New York. I’ve played with Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, and Muddy Waters. I’ve written songs for Earth, Wind & Fire (Powerlight LP) and Stanley Turrentine. And Mtume and I had similar concepts about being Black men playing popular music in America. My Azar Lawrence Experience band enables me to explore my Funk side.”

Singer Veronica Swift gave the crowd serious shades of Janis Joplin in a variety of musical settings that moved from “Do Nothing `Til You Hear From Me” to a medley of the musical hit “Big Spender” with The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

Fantastic Negrito and Band
Fantastic Negrito and Band

The most provocative act of the day spun in next. Stage name: Fantastic Negrito. Emphasizing material from his third and latest album, White Jesus, Black Problems, he indulged in a song cycle inspired by his great grandparents circa 1750: a White indentured servant and an enslaved Black man. Over a searing soundtrack of electric blues (sometimes close to Punk Rock) and biting lyrical truth-telling, he rocked the good, the bad and the ugly of their lives in a piece that was as much about America as it was their singular love story. Songs included “You Better Have a Gun,” “Bullshit Anthem” and “Venomous Dogma.” Winner of the three Grammys and the very first NPR Tiny Desk Concert Award, Fantastic Negrito is an artist worth seeing live and getting to know a whole lot better.

Guitarist Cory Wong was up next with a danceable strain of high-octane smooth jazz that was heavy on riffing dynamic punch. Adrenaline rush for a star crazy LA. audience: a cameo by alto saxophonist Dave Koz on the boiler “Gratitude.”

Singer Jose’ James has been balancing a career that teeters both between Jazz and Soul music as well as original material and tribute albums. He is currently working the tribute angle in honor of the late, peerless singer-songwriter Bill Withers. The sheer familiarity of Withers’ universal message songs such as “Grandma’s Hands,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Just the Two of Us” allowed Jose’ to not have to sing very hard to move the crowd. The most exciting moment of his set came when Bill’s daughter, Kori Withers, joined him to deliver a sexy take on “Use Me.”

Roots Drummer Questlove and Sousaphone Star 'Tuba Gooding, Jr.'
Roots Drummer Questlove and Sousaphone Star ‘Tuba Gooding, Jr.’

Saturday came to an on-your-feet end when Philadelphia Hip Hop band The Roots played what was, essentially, a non-stop party platter of Black Classic Soul-Pop crossed against rap hits built off sampling them, plus some of The Root’s own greatest hits. Highlights included a sleek medley of Donald Byrd’s “Think Twice” into Main Source’s “Looking at the Front Door,” a powerful groove through the Blackbyrds’ “Rock Creek Park” featuring keyboardist Raymond Angry, and the band’s own “You Got Me,” here featuring guitarist Cap’n Kirk Douglas’ inspired playing while singing a lead originally recorded by Erykah Badu. Major props to band leader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson for getting his rock-steady Earl Young on like a soul man metronome. What they do? Anything they want to!

SUNDAY
The Sunday edition of the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival got off to an impressive start with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Beyond the Bell All City Jazz Big Band, crisply articulating the classics “Perdido” (the mighty Juan Tizol jam line), Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island,” Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time” and Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa.” Kudos to the Bowl sound team as every band section could distinctly be heard yet with a warm blend that did not overwhelm. Leaders Tony White and J.B. Dyas are also to be commended for recognizing the recent passing of Los Angeles music education maverick Reggie Andrews for all he did to shepherd promising youth into shining professionals.

Keyboardist Lao Tizer’s band spun in next with a high-watermark set of originals featuring former Chick Corea Elektric band saxophonist Eric Marienthal and powerhouse vocalist Tita Hutchison. Their set included a stirring version of Irish rockers U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love).” They were later followed by Grammy-winner Gordon Goodwin’s Big Fat Band performing jazz arrangements of pop hits plus sizzling originals “T.O.P. Adjacent,” and “The Jazz Police.”

Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington with guest singer Debo Ray
Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington with guest singer Debo Ray

Highly impressive were mid-day sets by women bandleaders. Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington who is noted as much for her production and album concepts as she is for her playing, brought her latest band Social Science to the Bowl, dispensing thought-provoking, timely and socio-politically-sensitive material in Jazz-Hip Hop contexts, including “Trapped in The American Dream” (a gingerly syncopated ‘breathing while Black’ poem revealing the struggles of the Black Lives Matter movement) and “Pray the Gay Away” (a slap back at those intolerant of LGBTQ realities and lifestyles). Also nice was the lovely instrumental “Over and Sons,” plus her set marked a sweet reunion with host Arsenio Hall for whom Carrington was the original drummer of his TV talk show band The Posse.

Carmen Lundy Backed by Drummer Terreon Gulley
Carmen Lundy Backed by Drummer Terreon Gulley

Earlier, singer/songwriter Carmen Lundy made her debut as a leader at The Hollywood Bowl (she’d sung at ‘Playboy’ a few years back as a guest of Terri Lyne Carrington’s “Mosaic Project”). Carmen brought the finest Jazz vocal set of the day, pulling from her 15-album catalog plus three new songs from her October-slated CD, Fade to Black. Of those three selections, the women’s rights meditation “Ain’t I Human” was an attention grabber given the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe vs. Wade just two days prior. Backstage at the Bowl, Lundy shared, “When the pandemic began, I said I wasn’t going to write anything. Then stuff started happening, one thing after the other. I was surprised I was writing about stuff BEFORE it manifested. I wrote ‘Ain’t I Human’ about a year ago inspired by Harriet Tubman’s ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech concerning women’s right to vote. I figured when this audience hears what I’m singing, maybe they’ll think I wrote it yesterday for this festival. But I didn’t. Jazz vocals tend to reflect another time. A lot of the repertoire we sing was mostly written by white men of the past. I want to sing about the present that has to do with the future. 16 albums later, it may have taken me longer than one might expect, but I’m very happy with the transition of artist perspective that has happened for me across the years.”

Femi Kuti and Dancer/Backup Singer
Femi Kuti and Dancer/Backup Singer

Femi Kuti brought the volcanic Africana to the day with material celebrating his legendary father Fela Kuti. Backed by a drums-heavy band and three feverishly dancing backup singers, his was the most colorful and vibrant set, including “Stop the Hate,” “Corruption Na Stealing” and the classic “Water No Get Enemy” as a finale. He was followed by Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah (formerly Christian Scott) who brought intensity of another level to his opening one-two punch of “Blood Calls Blood” and “Bark Out Thunder, Roar Out Lightning.” His set also included the mid-set reprieve “Diaspora” featuring flautist Elena Pinderhughes who is soon to embark on her own journey as a leader.

Chief Adjuah and Ensemble
Chief Adjuah and Ensemble

Singer/Songwriter Gregory Porter delivered a perfectly balanced set of what could be called his ‘greatest hits’ such as “On My Way to Harlem,” “Take Me to The Alley,” “No Love Dying” and the more recent “If Love is Overrated” – to the delight of all. His dark baritone, as seductive as it can be authoritative, cast spells as the twilight gave way to evening stars. This writer’s only quibble was the insensitive and detracting sax solos of Tivon Pennicott. He’s nicer on trumpet.

Gregory Porter vibing on trumpeter Tivon Pennicott
Gregory Porter vibing on trumpeter Tivon Pennicott

Also in hits mode was festival closer Tower of Power, a band that has played the Bowl on many occasions. Notable this time was new lead vocalist Mike Jerel wearing a jersey emblazoned with the number 34…which led some longtime fans to wonder if that was code for being the Bay Area stalwarts’ 34th lead singer since the late ’60s! Show highlight: the uber-relevant again “Only So Much Oil In The Ground.” Interestingly, T.O.P. spent so much time playing mid-level hits like “Soul with a Capital S” and “We Came to Play” that they ran out of time and weren’t able to play their anthem, “What is Hip,” which left them awkwardly and anticlimactically closing with the lovely but way too soft “You’re Still a Young Man.” Alas, several T.O.P. fans with J.O.B.s were already filing out anyway to be fresh for Monday morning, so we’ll let them slide this time…like a tasty trombone lick.

Tower of Power lead singer Mike Jerel with founding baritone saxophonist Stephen “Doc” Kupka and trombonist Mike Boggart behind him
Tower of Power lead singer Mike Jerel with founding baritone saxophonist Stephen ‘Doc’ Kupka and trombonist Mike Boggart behind him

In essence, the Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival picked right up where the Playboy Jazz Festival left its party bunny ears. Respect, A. Scott Galloway

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