JAZZ REVIEW : Playboy Throws a Hot Party at the Bowl

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The heat was on at the first day of the weekend’s 11th annual Playboy Jazz Festival. With Saturday’s temperatures climbing into the 80s under sunny skies, a sold-out crowd of 17,901 at the Hollywood Bowl warmed up to a varied program of jazz, fusion and ethnic music. All the usual accouterments--picnic baskets, beach balls and plenty of bottled beverages--made this the biggest party in town.

The high point of the celebration was the set by Ruben Blades and his band Son del Solar with their politically conscious brand of salsa. The strong 10-piece aggregation played a number of uptempo dance pieces with a heavy emphasis on percussion, all spiced by Blades’ assertive vocals. The group gets a unique sound with the dual trombones of Reinaldo Jorge and Papo Vasquez, the latter’s sharp, choppy solo standing out on a number called “Contraband.” The mood created by the group was so infectious, even Bill Cosby put down his cigar to join them on cowbell.

Preceding Blades, singer Diane Reeves delivered on her promise to “weave a cloth of many colors” with a variety of ethnic and pop numbers. Reeves has an excellent rhythmic sense and her treatment of “For All We Know” was spiced with smoke and ginger. Drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, a heavy hitter who’s strong on the bass pedal, was featured on a rocking “How High the Moon.” Joined by the 14-voice Friendship Choir, the singer closed her set with an emotional “Fumi Liyo,” enlisting the boogie-minded crowd in call-and-response phrases and introducing band members as part of her vocal.


Dropped in the middle of the party frenzy was the Wynton Marsalis Sextet, actually a septet with the addition of trombonist Wycliff Gordon, who was not listed on the program. Their early evening set, which featured aggressive versions of standards and Marsalis originals, found the trumpeter digging into his New Orleans heritage as well as the neo-bop movement of the ‘60s for inspiration. The results were impressive.

Marsalis grabbed attention on his own “The Majesty of the Blues” with wah-wah plunger effects that hinted at Louis Armstrong. His prettiest work came on Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays,” where he demonstrated a wide vibrato on sustained notes. Standouts in the Marsalis band included pianist Marcus Roberts, who took an unaccompanied solo on Thelonius Monk’s “Mysterioso,” and tenor saxophonist Todd Williams, whose attack and range of ideas suggested a young Wayne Shorter. The group ended its set with “The Death of Jazz,” a comic dirge that turned into a funky march featuring Marsalis’ trumpet vamp.

Marsalis was followed by Grover Washington Jr., who provided just what the crowd wanted: a backbeat. Despite the accessible rhythms, Washington, especially on tenor, shows some of John Coltrane’s spirit and willingness to take chances. His unaccompanied solo on “In a Sentimental Mood” revealed his sensitive side while a funky “Jamaica” had him honking out the riff on bass sax. Washington dedicated his theme, “Mr. Magic,” to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, bringing the crowd to its feet and Cosby out for another turn on cowbell.

Buckwheat Zydeco’s loose closing set capped off the day. Accordionist Stanley Dural Jr. hardly needed to encourage the crowd to move; they were already on their feet dancing to the zippy rhythms from Patrick Landry’s rubboard. A lazy “Walkin’

to New Orleans” featured raunchy solos from saxophonist Dennis Taylor and trumpeter Calvin Landry.

The Terry Gibbs Dream Band got people on their feet early on with with rousing arrangements of swing tunes and standards. Saxophonist Med Floy’s arrangement of “Flying Home” featured an exchange of solos from the trumpet section with Snooky Young leading the high-end antics. For his part, vibraphonist Gibbs used “What’s New” to show off his skills, giving a tender reading of the lament, which he punctuated with quick runs and upper register trills.


Earlier in the day, the funk and fusion set of keyboardist George Duke and bassist Stanley Clarke was highlighted by a slow version of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork-Pie Hat” that featured Clarke’s melodic electric solo. Pianist Michel Camilo displayed his Latin roots and something of McCoy Tyner’s attack in his spirited early set. The day opened with the surprisingly tight Hemet High School Band under the direction of Jeff Tower showcasing promising work from saxophonist Mark Nishino and trombonist Jennifer Krupa.