UC Jazz Festival a sensational show

THE SECOND of two long, afternoon concerts that constituted the 17th Annual UC-Berkeley Jazz Festival’s Greek Theater shows wound down at 7:15 last night with VSOP II leaving the stage after a 75-minute set while the crowd cheered for more.

It had been a good, if elongated and enervating, Jazz demonstration for the nearly 8,000 sitting in the sun. The sensational sounds (particularly) of VSOP’s drummer Tony Williams, pianist Herbie Hancock and new trumpeter Wynton Marsalis had, once again, revived the audience’s most enthusiastic response.

That’s the way the whole seven Jazz hours had gone in the Greek – each group had first ingratiated the crowd, then musically warmed them and concluded with a standing ovation. It certainly was among the all-round finest UC-Berkeley Jazz Festival presentations, both in musical quality (and variety) and in overall production.

Lively funk-Jazzers Pieces of a Dream (Grover Washington’s proteges) opened at noon with a light, spirited, attractive pop-jazz set.
Then came the Wynton Marsalis Quintet featuring Wynton on trumpet, brother Branford on tenor and soprano saxes, Kenny Kirkland on piano, Ray Drummond on bass and Jeff Watts on drums.

The famed New Orleans-bred Marsalis boys, in their early 20s, have a book of their own apart from what they play with VSOP II.
It admirably displays their instrumental virtuosity and their compositional versatility.

The Marsalis Quintet revels in tight dynamic control and variable meter. Stop, start; fast, slow, loud, soft tricks, brilliant outbursts, ballads, bebop, and sensational solos all around. Intellectual, cerebral, marvellously fascinating stuff.

Playing with VSOP II, the Marsalises are, of course, only recently integrated into the Hancock-Williams-Ron Carter (bass) team, who have been together, one way or another, for 20 years. That the basic trio can so easily absorb these relative young- sters is as remarkable as the ability of the Marsalises to restrain their individuality and become comfortable members of the veteran ensemble.

Wynton’s astonishing technique and lightning-quick improvisational skills sometimes create more noodles of pyrotechnic noodles than my head can absorb (especially in glaring heat) but he’s one of the greats, no doubt it will be a delight to follow his career.
VSOP’s Juxtapositions of piano, drums, bass, with the overlay of the Marsalises’ contributions provided constant surprises.

By Philip Elwood
Source: The San Francisco Examiner

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