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JAZZ REVIEW : 2nd Annual Pacific Fest Draws Half a House for a Mix of Talent

Many years ago there was a popular song called “Where Is the Chicken in the Chicken Chow Mein?” Saturday, at the Pacific Amphitheatre, it was possible to ask the musical question, “Where is the jazz in the jazz festival?”

The occasion was the second-annual Pacific Jazz Festival; due to the slow erosion of the word’s meaning, a festival can now consist of a single concert.

How festive was it? Well, just enough to attract about 3,600; the Amphitheatre has 8,000 seats. How much jazz content? It depends how many hyphens you use. Discounting the fusion-jazz, the Brazilian-jazz and the funk and the rest, two of the eight acts qualified as uncompromising loyalists: Diane Schuur and an ad hoc sextet billed as the Timeless All-Stars.

Schuur was the big surprise, on at least two levels. Not for nothing did she sing “I’m Trav’lin’ Light,” adding parenthetically: “Since I lost 107 pounds.” At 123 pounds she was all-but-unrecognizable. More significant: She sounded as good as she looked. No less unexpected was her use of a second vocalist. Kimberley Bass joined with Schuur for a shouting, stomping call-and-response gospel routine that built to an invigorating climax.

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The timeless All-Stars owe this name to the durability of the mainstream-modern genre they represented. As the opening act in the eight-hour marathon, they were helped by the splendid solos of Harold Land on tenor sax and Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, but were hindered by the abominable sound system. Buster Williams’ bass was so loud you could hear more noise than notes. Billy Childs rose above it all with some far-out changes on a long blues.

Airto Moreira began with a trio number that set Kei Akagi’s keyboard in splendid perspective. He was then joined by Flora Purim, in a trilingual performance (Portuguese, English and scat) that somehow was never quite airborne. Moreira’s solo performance on tambourines was rhythmically astounding.

Larry Carlton vacillated between regular and solid body guitar and between pop/rock/funk and jazz, but his group hit a gutty groove with a slow B. B. King-style blues that had the crowd in an uproar.

Andy Narell has been a pioneer in the use of steel drums in jazz, but aside from its cheerful presence in a calypso context this seems like a misplaced talent; a typical Narell number in this percussion-heavy group seemed about as logical as a violin sonata played on timpani.

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Ottmar Liebert, playing acoustic guitar, threw in a heady mix of flamenco and Hungarian sounds, but the electric bass and drums backing him, and the similarity of the songs (all unannounced), led to boredom.

David Benoit, whose recent straight-ahead album gained so much from the late Emily Remler’s guitar work, had no replacement for her. Much of his set was a mix of Vince Guaraldi and Peter Nero. Benoit’s piano and Brandon Fields’ saxes and flute were just another case of the bland leading the bland.

Keiko Matsui is a very small woman who makes incongruously large sounds on her keyboard. If that qualified her for inclusion in a jazz festival, it didn’t prevent a flock of fans from heading for the exit by the time her first melodramatic chords were declaimed. It was seven hours into the festival and enough was enough.


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