Heavy rhythms, sparking piano, elegant drumming, brilliant horns, emotional delivery and soaring vocals were all on display on Monday at Campbell Hall. Monday night’s performance by the Monterey Jazz All-Stars was an amazing display of talent, musical genius, playfulness and love, and respect for the medium.
The sextet opened with Dizzy Gillespie’s “Bebop”(which they played as a quartet) and with such tenacity and virtuosity that it was literally awe inspiring. The group consisted of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, the Grammy Award-nominated vocalist Nnenna Freelon, Benny Green playing the piano, James Moody playing sax and taking a hilarious vocal lead on one number, Derrick Hodge’s bass work was heavy and technically proficient at the same time, and the quintet was rounded out by Kendrick Scott on drums.
The act was broken up into two sets, in the first part they played some gorgeous pieces from Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and others. The band was very tight and even when the sound system was being especially difficult the band showed no hesitation and played through magnificently. Each member of the band took frequent solos and every time this happened displayed not only amazing technical ability, but the talent necessary to make flurries of notes connect in intricate harmonic and rhythmic melodies.
In the first half James Moody took a vocal lead that was hilarious and displayed his amazing ability to work the audience. At one point in the song he was buzzing his lips to make it seem like there was a fly on stage, which he preceded to follow around the stage until he killed the ‘fly’ by hitting one of the microphones. These stage antics were highly entertaining and allowed the audience to participate in the fun the performers were clearly having. Yet, it did not take ingenious stage novelties to prove the band was having a great time. On many numbers Moody would sing an opposing melody in a good-natured attempt to push Nnenna Freelon by making it that much harder for her to focus on her own melodies. Other times the interaction between Benny Green and Derrick Hodge took center stage, especially when they closed numbers and one could see them testing each other and playing with the ending, prolonging its resolution with creative and beautiful melodies and passages before finishing each song in prefect unison.
All in all, the show was great. The audience loved it and gave the performers multiple standing ovations, which they greatly deserved. One of the two faults in the entire performance was the occasional sound problem, although in all fairness the musicians were not at fault here and in fact played on marvelously.
Although the show lasted almost three hours, everyone on stage was so captivating I wish it did not have to end.
5 out of 5 stars.