Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival, Day 1 – Music Connection Magazine

Although it has a new name and is now hosted by the LA Philharmonic, make no mistake, the “first annual” Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival is the magical, emotional, fiery and above all eclectic event in terms of style of its processor, the legendary Playboy Jazz. Festival lasted more than 40 years.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the term “jazz” is that it can be many things to different people, incorporating vibes and rhythmic styles that make trying to define exactly what jazz is like an experience. that of following a laser on a malleable and changing wall. . Just as Playboy Jazz lineups were always marquee events catering to a multitude of musical tastes, the newly scored event was full of different vibes, alternating energies, and plenty of dynamic surprises. And, kindly replacing regular emcee George Lopez, the always-hipster, always-game Arsenio Hall — who opened with a reminder that today (Saturday) was a true representation of 100 years of summer at the Bowl.

Those who dared to cook in the 90+ degree heat from the start were treated to a group of young artists who represent the bright future of jazz, the LA County High School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble. After a subtle, slow opening number that evolved into a piano and trombone duet, the band launched into an explosive jam driven by a driving piano solo and a two-fisted saxophone jam. Much of the set was dominated by a 12-member a capella choir that oscillated effortlessly and emotionally between classic R&B (“What’s Going On”) and scat-infused excitement (“Everybody’s Boppin'”).

Next, kicking off the high-octane, highly danceable musical aesthetic that dominated most of the day, Jungle Fire, a raunchy, densely percussive 10-member Latin fusion ensemble (including three horn players and three frontline percussionists) that began jamming informally in the Pico Union area and has evolved into an alternately sultry and searing world-class world music powerhouse. As well as jumping into dynamic African grooves at times, Jungle Fire’s very Californian brand of Latin funk delivers the distinctive West Coast vibe with a snappy, rattling surf guitar element.

After their total late-afternoon party vibe, pianist Gerald Clayton and his inventive band settled into a more laid-back, chic early-evening mode with a thoughtful, sometimes meditative and edgy fusion ensemble of traditional jazz. , marked by subtle growls, then a bass with an impetuous groove. and drums, artful horn solos and the leader’s beautiful and hypnotic piano improvisations. One of his most touching pieces was a moody reflection on the legacy of “Frederick Douglass”.

Arsenio said the best of the Azar Lawrence experience after the legendary saxman and his funky, searing horn ensemble completed an intensely rhythmic and wildly mixed set, driven by funky fusion, smooth and soaring urban R&B/jazz vocals and Latin flavors: “That’s why they call it an experiment!” The funny part of Lawrence’s band is that the audience never knew what was coming next. They started with sizzling Latin jazz showcasing the furious intensity of Lawrence’s horn, then brought it back for a passionate vocals from their singer, with Lawrence all about the fnnky solo. And then a total immersion in a smooth jazz ballad before concluding with a jamming blues rock fusion.

Those in the audience who may have known the multi-faceted, jazz-intensive singer Veronica Swift from her impressive 2021 album This Bitter Earth were no doubt blown away as she lit up the stage with an epic jazz/rock extravaganza and emotionally intense for the ages. Dressed in a bright red burlesque dress with delightfully swinging fringe and wearing sparkly eyeshadow, she cut a convincing figure perfectly suited to the dramatic flair and hard swing she brought to the presentation. Her opening number “You’ve Got To Be Taught” was the perfect showcase for her soaring vocals and otherworldly scat skills. She built on that energy with “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me,” fiery, visceral blues rock playing with a blazing rock guitar solo and her distorted bluesy vocalization. Another highlight of her sultry but searing cabaret performance was a rock twist on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

Like Swift, another big festival surprise was the gripping, socially conscious presentation of mystical blues/jazz/rocker Fantastic Negrito (Main Picture), whose voice sounds like a raspy male version of Macy Gray. He went through a string of socio-politically charged jams, including tracks from his new album White Jesus Black Problems like “You Better Have a Gun” and “Highest Bidder,” wrapping with the folk-tinged “Virginia Soil,” hopefully autobiographical, whose “Freedom Will Come” chorus was particularly poignant and needed right now. The highlight of the set, however, was not a full song, but its cathartic audience-participation chorus, “Take all the bullshit and turn it into good bullshit.”

Hands down, my favorite punch of the day – mind-blowing rhythm guitar funkmaster Cory Wong and jazz/hip-hop/neo-soul singer Jose James paying homage to the late great Bill Withers – are the types of Many Jazz purists would say that artists should not participate in an event billed as a “jazz festival”. But that’s precisely why they were so great – because audiences love it when promoters mix and showcase artists that appeal to a wide variety of tastes.

Having become familiar with Wong’s rock/jazz/funk jamming intensity and horn integration skills via The Golden Hour, the 2021 double album he recorded with Dave Koz, it was especially gratifying when Koz made a special appearance for the sweetly melodious “Gratitude.” a cleverly arranged track with Wong’s five-piece horn ensemble – followed by a scorching rock/jazz jam. Modulating from sparkling jangle to wah-wah, spacey synth vibes, and every sonic point in between, Wong and his great crew were all about slammin’ rock/jazz with some hard-hitting dance grooves and a bit of laid-back sexiness. for good measure.

James has recorded four albums since his splendid 2018 Withers tribute Lean On Me, but has made his stunning and deeply moving show of reimagined classics almost like a delayed CD release party. Hear the opening vocals or instrumental strains of classics like the opener “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Grandma’s Hands”, “Lean on Me” (which turned into a single) and “Just the Two of Us” (which he did as a medley with Bobby Caldwell’s ever-engaging “What You Won’t Do For Love” was delightful, and the packed house filled with applause with every number. Yet , the real magic of the set was how he and his band took these tunes into inventive, jazzy and improvisational territory – but never so far as to lose sight of the melodies everyone wanted to sing. the set was when Bill’s daughter, Kori Withers, dropped in unannounced to join James on a wildly extended, improv-rich adventure through “Use Me” and the always musically and spiritually uplifting “Lovely Day.”

Freed from the confines of the bandstand of “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” funky rock, progressive soul and alt-hip hop band The Roots closed the first night of the festival with a relentless, daring, brassy 75-minute of nonstop raucous energy led by rapper/singer Black Thought and drummer Questlove that was both delightfully old school (“Jungle Boogie,” “I Got My Mind Made Up”) and intoxicatingly thought-provoking (“You Got Me”).

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