On Thursday, January 29th, the best of the contemporary, and the old school jazz cats in the scene, came through to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival. If there was ever any question about the strength of the heart beat of jazz today, that night it was answered because the Flynn theatre was about ready to come off of its feet. Drummer Louis Nash, tenor man James Moody, guitarist Howard Alden, Trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Peter Washington, and tenor/baritone sax player James Carter formed an all-star crew to throw down hard for this most necessary celebration.
The show in itself was one large never-ending highlight. All the instruments complemented each other beautifully like a huge love affair. Old met new, making the perfect mix of tradition and innovation. Cedar Walton, one of the older pros on stage, added wonderful harmonious melodic undertones, never quite stealing the show, but making himself ever present, and ever important. Cedar Walton’s piano radiated an extremely special musical wisdom that blanketed the audience. Randy Brecker, who was more reserved than I expected, was still very tasteful with the trumpet. If this crew was a basketball team then Peter Washington would have been the John Stockton of the evening. He almost never left the stage, was extremely dependable, and was always in the groove pocket when needed. Peter Washington was the backbone of the band, playing his fills when appropriate, and then remaining solidly in the background, consistently assisting his teammates. Howard Alden never really stole the show either, but showed his excellence and professionalism through his chord work. He laid down progressions with warm soft textures, excellent technique, and a whole lot of smoothness. Alden was a key component to the band’s thick rhythm section.
James Carter, James Moody, and Louis Nash were the show stealers of the night. Louis Nash provided the head bopping beats, with intensely original overwhelmingly powerful drum fills and the fluid finesse of a cheetah in motion. He would put down a stick, pick up a brush, wipe the snare with one hand, attack the symbols with another, and all the while never miss a beat. I am almost unsure that I will ever be able to watch another drummer ever again. James Moody showed that one could be in the game for fifty or so years, and still remain in his prime. Soul is something that certainly does not die, and he, his tenor, and his vocals had enough to put a little hop in the step of everyone in the western hemisphere. Finally, Mr. James Carter, the new explosion on the jazz scene, showed Burlington what is hip. He is funk, jazz, and rock and roll fused together into one man, and two saxophones. When Carter, with his flashy suit, wanted to get the crowd going, he did it; when he wanted to bring them down, he did it. James Carter has more energy than a five year old with ADHD. This man is most certainly the next big thing for jazz.
Dizzy, Duke, and Billie Holiday were probably looking down over the Flynn on the 29th smiling, and clapping. Especially during the close of the first set, when Moody and Carter had their tenor battle. It was like watching Joe Namath take on Johnny Unitis–Except this was not about victory, but about celebration.