Grazing was the order of the day Friday and Saturday at the 41st annual Monterey Jazz Festival. Grazing for food in the festival's multitude of eating places, and grazing for music among the programs taking place simultaneously in six different venues.
Toward that end, the colorful food court area was positioned in a long pathway connecting the principal performance arena, the Jimmy Lyons Stage, with the smaller concert locations. And, at almost any time during the long hours of programming, it was jammed with people noshing, sampling, snacking and feasting from smoking mounds of barbecued ribs, hot links, catfish and every imaginable kind of portable victuals.
Portability was vital, since the full menu of music demanded frequent movement from location to location.
On the Lyons stage, which featured most of the event's major artists, Friday night's program was particularly appealing, with a line-up that featured Paquito D'Riera's stirring United Nation Orchestra, the riff-drenched, rhythmically irresistible Zawinul Syndicate and the Mingus Big Band's rich-textured take on the music of the legendary Charles Mingus. Saturday afternoon offered the festival's traditional blues program highlighted by Tower of Power, and the evening event showcased the veteran Dave Brubeck, singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and the attractive pairing of vibist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist McCoy Tyner
But grazing, with food and music, can be more fun when it moves from sample to sample rather than concentrating on main courses. And much of the festival's most intriguing jazz was taking place in venues with names such as Dizzy's Den, the Coffee House Gallery, the Night Club and the Garden Stage. Each was available (often via long lines) to festival-goers who had purchased grounds passes, and the sold-out Lyons Stage events could be viewed via big-screen closed-circuit presentation in the Jazz Theatre.
Among the many unanticipated pleasures, there was some crisp, Afro-Cuban-influenced playing by Rebeca Mauleon and Round Trip, featuring the superb improvising of Alex Murzyn, a low-visibility tenor saxophonist with great potential. There was further first-rate individual work (in various groups) from guitarist Joyce Cooling, pianist Omar Sosa, bassist Dave Carpenter and guitarist Anthony Wilson. There were the unusual timbres of the Joel Harrison Octet, featuring a front line of bassoon, trombone and tenor saxophone, and the whimsical music and visuals of Mingus Amungus and its four modern dancers.
The dark, intimate Coffee House was a piano-lovers delight with the thoughtful musing of Brad Mehldau, the clattery avant-gardeisms of Matthew Shipp and the brilliantly creative work of the vastly underappreciated Jessica Williams.
On Friday night, Dizzy's Den revived the blues-driven sounds of jazz organ with a tribute to Shirley Scott featuring stirring individual sets by Spencer Allen, Mel Rhyne, Gloria Coleman and Trudy Pitts. On Saturday, the same venue devoted a full evening to bassist Christian McBride's ambitious new excursion into jazz versions of classic pop and R&B; tunes.
Finally, for festival-goers in need of a few moments' pause from high-energy musical and gastronomic grazing, there was a Saturday afternoon opportunity to gain some jazz insights and illuminations via conversations with two veteran artists, Dave Brubeck and Bobby Hutcherson.