Concert Review: Newport Jazz Festival 2021 – A Musical Affirmation

By Paul Robicheau

Both Newport festivals have taken on the challenge of restoring live music in a year that has made it difficult and welcome.

Charles Lloyd at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2012. Photo: Paul Robicheau.

Nine out of ten days of music at Fort Adams State Park culminated in Sunday’s finale of the three-day Newport Jazz Festival, as Andra Day cooed and soared through her affirmative ‘Rise Up’ hymn. And while the previous Folk On fest covered a lot of ground over six days, the jazz weekend turned out to be more diverse, from the crowd – which seemed larger despite the same half-capacity with proof of vaccination or negative Covid test. – to the range of what constituted jazz. .

Friday featured the slightly exotic psych-funk of popular but polarizing Texan trio Khruangbin (last seen at Newport Folk in 2018) as well as the intoxicating sax booms of Kamasi Washington, which draws its own young audience. Saturday was dominated by the lively New Orleans outfit Trombone Shorty & New Orleans Avenue as well as soul icon and Newport Folk favorite, Mavis Staples, who served the Talking Heads “Slippery People” as well as the Staples Singers fare with his husky, authoritative voice.

Sunday was the last day to sell the Port Peninsula, but carried its own punch – and diversity in style and sound. The day calmed down with less emphasized jazz instruments, harpist Brandee Younger with glissando accents and a compromise of atmosphere with Joel Ross, Warren Wolf and Sasha Berliner. Ross also colored the sound of the Jazz Gallery All-Stars, which included impressive tours by pianist Gerald Clayton and singer Renee Neufville, which paid a moving tribute to the late Roy Hargrove. Pianist Kenny Barron and bassist Dave Holland brought supple and nimble acoustic jazz in a trio before David Ostwald’s Louis Armstrong Eternity Band revived the era of jazz early in its inspiration, down to tuba and banjo. .

Tuba also lent the background to the more contemporary Bogie Band. This 10-member group set off a byte of winds from players who had worked with the Dap Kings, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Antibalas and Almost Dead, the performers of Grateful Dead whose drummer / frontman Joe Russo was at the center of the Bogie gang. From multiple flute waves to surging funk with muscular horns, the band kicked ass.

Andra Day at the Newport Jazz Festival, 2021. Photo: Paul Robicheau.

Russo also joined the Jam Jawn, a promising improvisation session led by bassist and festival artistic director Christian McBride. Guitarist John Scofield relaxed a bit too much, carving rubbery notes over Russo’s simpatico chatter and Almost Dead’s Marco Benevento, which stood out on several keys. While the Jawn wasn’t a yawn, it lacked inspiring turns beyond players wandering into a few riffs they then exaggerated. Better times came when the band cut for a slow weave of McBride’s acoustic bass and Mikaela Davis’ harp and when McBride went electric to grease a funky blast with guests from Ostwald’s Armstrong band. .

Charles Lloyd – who first performed in Newport five decades ago – hasn’t announced his band ahead of time, but he usually puts together a sublime cast, shaped by the earthy tone and mood of his saxophone. tenor. Sunday was no different, with pianist Clayton, rock drummer Eric Harland and guitarist Marvin Sewell performing sweetly spicy solos, off the beaten track slide and biting blues.

Christian McBride with George Wein at the Newport Jazz Festival. Photo: Paul Robicheau.

Robert Glasper performed every day of Newport Jazz as the festival’s artist-in-residence, from the acoustic piano combo to his band Black Radio, which generated Sunday’s hottest fusion. Glasper switched from Fender Rhodes to synthesizers as the intensity increased from the groove, topped off by electrifying guitar turns from Isiah Sharkey (D’Angelo, John Mayer). The keyboardist also shared his R&B / hip-hop side, inviting Grammy winner Ledisi, who brought her dynamic vocals to a few collaborative songs (including “I’m Leaving You” from an upcoming revamp of Miles Davis’ titles) following her tribute to Nina Simone on Saturday.

Andra Day also dove into Simone’s songbook Sunday with an overly smooth “Mississippi Goddam”, but resonated more with the singer’s songs she recently performed in the acclaimed film. The United States vs. Billie Holiday. She started the set with “Strange Fruit” (on manila-shaped drums) and tucked into “God Bless the Child” after giving away vacation props to write this song at a time when “her agency gave her. has been removed “. Day also shone with songs from his stellar debut in 2015. Long live the fall (notably “Forever Mine”) and his next album, offering the lively “Phone Dies” (dancing with his choristers) and the R&B ballad “Heavy on My Mind”, airy for its title. “You showed you stood up,” Day told the crowd in reference to the pandemic – and Newport festivals rose to the challenge of restoring live music in a year that made it difficult and welcome.

Newport Jazz founder George Wein, 95, unfortunately couldn’t attend the festival this year, but McBride pulled out his cell phone to call Wein, turned it to face the crowd. and held up a microphone so Wein could speak. “Keep coming back,” Wein said, thanking the fans and wiping a tear from his eyes.


Paul Robicheau served over 20 years as a contributing editor for music at Incorrect Bostonian in addition to writing and photography for the Boston Globe, Rolling stone, and many other publications. He was also the founding artistic editor of Boston subway.


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