Jazz & blues heats up Utah's mountains

concert review

By Pat Christian

            You should’ve been there!

            Musically, if you weren’t there Friday and Saturday you weren’t anywhere.

            The music was hot even if the temperatures were not.  It was high in the mountains at Snowbird.  It was the 8th annual Utah Jazz & Blues Festival featuring Robert Cray’s cool jazz and hot Latin-jazz  licks from none other than maestro Tito Puente.  Several other festival musicians razzle-dazzled audiences too.

            For two magical days, the Snowbird festival was the beating heart of Utah. And oh-boy! was the heart rate way up.  I have to tell you, Snowbird was swinging to-and-fro. 

            Puente closed out the festival Saturday night in a muy grande style, leaving the audience dancing in the aisles and wishing the Latin king would play way way into Sunday morning.

            Pummeling his hot pink and green drums like muy loco crazy, the flamboyant band leader certainly belied his 72 years as he danced to the extremely danceable beat.  Did you know he intended to be a dancer before he tore an ankle tendon in an accident?  That was the dance world’s loss, the musical world’s good luck.  The accident sent Puente to study musical composition from Charlie Spivak whom he had met on the USS Santee during World War II.  Juilliard followed and so did mucho albums and two Grammies.

            The Puente fire ignited several numbers into the performance.  A Magnificent timbales player, competent saxophonist, pianist and conga bongo player, Puente proved he is also a great, but underrated vibraphone player with his moving Autumn Leaves.

            Then he shared the spotlight with an engaging Dominican Republic singer, La Duke, who charmed the audience out of their seats again.

            While Puente and La Duke shared the spotlight momentarily, the electricity for that spotlight was Puente’s finely-tuned team of Latin-jazz musicians who seemed to enjoy the audience as much at it enjoyed them.

            What a night—Puente closed out the festival borrowing back Carlos Santana’s Oye Como Va. Puente wrote and recorded that composition.  But  Santana rocketed the number to the top of the charts in a way making it his own.  Santana also recorded Para los Ruberos, another of Puente’s 400-plus compositions.

            Puente’s finale with Oye Como Va left him with the swaying members of the audience in his hand and they left with him in their quickly beating hearts.

            Just before Puente’s band took the stage, Igor Butman + 5 had the audience thanking music heaven for glasnost.

            The too-hot saxophonist was declared the number one Soviet saxophonist in 1985 and 1986.  Then he married and American and moved to the United States.

            But last May, Butman was temporarily back in Moscow blowing licks at the Kremlin for Boris Yeltsin, and mediocre saxophonist U.S. President Bill Clinton.  Since arriving on American shores,  Butman has collaborated with the likes of Grover Washington, Pat Metheny, Gary Burton and David Brubeck.

            Saturday night, he was collaborating with the Utah audience in fine style with his brother and four other Russians, members of his excellent new group.

            How good were they?  So good the audience just had to shake their heads and ask, Who are these Russkies who have mastered the American jazz idiom so well?

            Their performance of Argentinean Gato Brabbiery’s slow and emotional Nostalgia was technically flawless.  It grabbed tearfully at your soul.

            It contrasted perfectly with their fast-driving conclusion number, Sonny Stitt’s Eternal Triangle.  It was performed so well that if the festival had been a contest, they would have been declared winner.

            The California Guitar Trio was hands-downs winners in showing just how far the sound of a guitar can be tweaked.  Sometimes during their curious (jazz?  classical?  country?  experimental?) numbers they sounded like guitar players.  But at other times they sounded like harpsichordist or synthesizer players. Wow!

            This  trio consists of Japan’s Hideyo Moriya; Bert Lams of Santa Fe, N.M., via the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, and Paul Richards of Bountiful, Utah, via England where he first teamed up with Lams and Moriyia.  Small world isn't it, eh?

            Opening Saturday, was one of Salt Lake City’s best-kept secrets, the Frederick James McCray trio, with Frederick James McCray romancing the piano and holding his own on vocal solos.  So-fine percussionist Wayne Coonson of Salt Lake City and Utah County’s own Lars Yorgason, shining like a new penny on base.

A version of this review appeared in The Daily Herald, Provo, Utah



© 1999-2005 Pat Christian

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