The Tri-C Jazz Festival is outdoors and in, the weekend before the Fourth of July, on Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland. Tri-C is Cuyahoga Community College, a two-year school with a Jazz program. I would love to enroll. The Festival bookings by my friend Terri Pontremoli create continuities and comparisons that keep my mind happily busy, days later. Here’s some of what I saw …
Growing up in Flint, Michigan, Dee Dee Bridgewater slept with a transistor radio under her pillow, the better to receive soul music after dark from WDIA-AM / Memphis. Now she is singing the repertoire — Al Green’s “Can’t Get Next to You,” Barbara Mason’s “Yes I’m Ready,” Mavis Staples’s “Why (Am I Treated So Bad),” Carla Thomas’s “B-A-B-Y Baby,” Elvis’s “Hound Dog,” Otis’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” All from her CD Memphis … Yes, I’m Ready.
That’s guest Kirk Whalum on the left, Bryant Lockhart on the right, and Dee Dee in stiletto heels after more than a year in flats. She says the shoes affect her performance. I’ve seen her Memphis show four times now and I love it more — sweet soul, Dee Dee’s miraculous vocal range, a euphonious band led by Dell Smith on the organ with back-up singers, the easy tempos, the comedy, the message to Vote in November.
In the 1970s-80s Old and New Dreams with Dewey Redman on tenor tipped its collective hat to Ornette Coleman’s quartets. Three players were from west of the Mississippi, and Ed Blackwell brought his jazzy street beat from New Orleans. Now Joshua Redman (Berkeley) tips his hat to Old and New Dreams with Still Dreaming — piano-free, melody-leading, harmonic possibilities rather than changes, and a drummer on parade. This group sounds fresh. Close listening is rewarded.
Joshua has footwork. He shifts his weight, lifts his knees and high-steps into the music, leading the quartet forward. The band members — Ron Miles (Denver), cornet; Scott Colley (LA and Texas in his past), bass; Brian Blade (Louisiana), drums. With exceptions noted, they composed the music — “New Year,” “Walls Bridges” by Dewey Redman, “Haze and Aspirations,” “It’s Not the Same,” “Unanimity,” and “Blues Connotation” by Ornette Coleman.
After Dreaming, another quartet appeared in full funky force in the lobby. Sax-o-matic from Quebec City ripped through Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, more. Terri discovered them online. They popped up indoors and out, always gathering a crowd.
Vinicius Cantuaria comes from Brazil. He sings in Portuguese and plays guitar.
I sat close to the percussionist, watching him choose among shakers and bells, his two standing drums. This is advanced samba. The musicians raise the intensity by adding beats inside the beat.
And most ’70s of all,
José James sang the Bill Withers songbook. He has the ideal voice for it — a little grainy. Sometimes he stops / restarts a phrase, as a DJ with a light finger on the turntable. With Brad Allen Williams, guitar; Takeshi Okioshi, keyboards; Ben Williams, bass; Nate Smith, drums, James closed with “Just the Two of Us” and “Lovely Day.”
Bill Withers was born on the Fourth of July, 1938. I missed a tribute to him at Carnegie Hall earlier this season, and seeing José James set helped to ameliorate that pain.